In November 2008, Clifton Bernard Curtis, 33, was arrested for attempting to murder his wife of three years, Erin, also 33, in her Calvert County, Maryland home. He stabbed and sliced her with a kitchen knife 27 times, and the only reason she lived is that her terrified nine-year-old son had the courage and presence of mind to call 911.
Curtis was convicted and has been in prison ever since. But this coming November, he will be up for parole, having served half of his 12-year sentence. And that’s where this part of the story begins.
This crime of domestic violence is an all too common tragedy in modern America. But what makes this particular incident even more horrendous is that the attempted murder was perpetrated right in front of Erin’s two sons: a two-year-old toddler who was Curtis’s biological child, and the nine-year-old, who had a different father.
The 911 operator told the older child to run and lock himself in a bedroom. He unlocked the door twice after that; the first time for his little brother, whose pajamas were stained with his mother’s blood, and the second time for the police, who had trouble convincing him that he and his brother were now safe and could open the door.
Now, the Maryland legislature is considering a bill that would increase the penalty for conviction of a violent crime committed in the presence of children, or make that factor a separate crime, such as some states do for the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
Some opponents argue that this might open up the victim parent to charges of allowing a child to witness violence. Others claim that it makes the same degree of violence and intent subject to unequal punishment, depending on the circumstances.
We firmly support this legislation.
Mainly, we support it because we do believe that subjecting a child to viewing violence is a separate crime in the same way that killing two people constitutes two crimes even though the same gun may have been used in both murders. And the reason we say this is because there is a separate victim, whose childhood development and maturation can be severely affected by what he or she sees. That was certainly the case with Erin’s two boys, though with her love and nurturing and some effective therapy they are growing up into fine young men.
So yes, men like Clifton Curtis should get extended sentences when their depraved horror is perpetrated in front of a child, because it is like subjecting that child to combat. And we all know what combat can do to experienced and highly trained soldiers. Imagine what it can do to a child.
Then there’s the issue of the original sentence itself. Trying to kill your wife by torturing her to death with a kitchen knife ought to be worth more than 12 years, we would think. And as far as letting him out on parole after half of that time, all we can say is that if a Parole Board makes the decision to release him, they’d better be damn sure they have enough information to assure that he is no longer dangerous.
And frankly, that is a bet whose odds we would never trust.