Intuitive reactions are uninformed and thankfully not the way people are judged for crimes they are convicted of. I respect that. Nor am I the ‘lock-him-up-and-throw-away-the-key’ sort of guy.
But let’s face it.
Erin Tanti admitted his guilt on a charge of murder which is punishable by up to life in prison. He also pleaded guilty for having sex with a minor, vulnerable person whilst abusing his position of power and authority as her teacher. He also admitted his guilt in connection with child pornography.
He did not admit to this when he was arrested, nor when he was charged, nor as the evidence against him was being heard. He pleaded guilty after five entire years of a legal process that he could see would inescapably convict him.
If he did not plead guilty today it is almost certain that in some three or four days’ time he would have been convicted of these charges and quite likely locked up for life.
All the work to prosecute him had been prepared. Even he was convinced there was no chance he could get out of this.
He consumed court time, police resources, prosecution preparation and stretched it to the last possible moment.
In the meantime he allowed his victim’s family to suffer in silence waiting for justice that he wanted, and tried, to avoid and only faced up to when he had no choice.
The circumstances of the case also have no mitigation whatsoever that would provide some form of justification for a lesser punishment.
Erin Tanti clearly pre-planned the murder of his victim Lisa Maria Zahra. He groomed her for months and at the moment of deepest crisis, he threatened her with his own suicide. He drove her to the scene of the murder. He provided a 15-year-old girl with drugs and drink to numb her judgement, such as it was. He pretended to be part of a suicide pact so that she would jump to her death. He was not angry with her when he killed her. He killed her in cold blood. And then he contrived the scene of the crime by crouching some way away from her to pretend he too had attempted suicide.
Erin Tanti repeatedly raped Lisa Maria Zahra. That term in the local context is not technically correct. We do not have the notion that some other jurisdictions have of ‘statutory rape’. It may very well have looked like his victim consented to have her sexual relationship with him. But the principle behind the notion of statutory rape is that a child does not have the intellectual faculties to consent or not consent to sex and therefore whatever it is they say about it, sexual relations with a minor must be presumed to be non-consensual. The word for that is rape.
The fact that his victim was a minor is compounded by the fact that she was also clinically depressed. He exploited that to have sex with her. And he exploited her depression in choosing the means he used to kill her.
Erin Tanti knew Lisa Maria Zahra because he was her teacher. He was trusted by her father and by the State to take care of her, act in her best interest, protect her from anyone that would harm her, educate her and guide her to a healthy future. With the keys to her safety in his hands, he entered her life, raped her and murdered her, deliberately and in cold blood.
A sentence of 20 years was fixed for the judge in a plea deal between Erin Tanti’s lawyers and the State’s attorney. Plea bargains are necessarily a compromise. But this is a compromise the Attorney General had no reason to make, not as far as I can see anyway.
The evidence against Erin Tanti was crushing. He did the state no favours by confessing at such a late stage.
And the Attorney General’s duty now was to ensure justice by securing a punishment that fits the crime. The repeated rape and cold-blooded murder of a child by her teacher is frankly as heinous a crime as my imagination can fathom. A prison sentence of 20 years does not to me feel like a punishment that fits this crime.
What must one do to be sentenced to 30 years, 40 years, life?
The Attorney General here failed to secure justice for this community as well. This community trusted Erin Tanti with the life of Lisa Maria Zahra and he has repaid that trust by raping her and killing her and for five years denying he had done so in the face of the overwhelming evidence that he has.
This is not right. This feels like a male-dominated society is once again neglecting its duty of care; its responsibility to protect vulnerable people, particularly young women and girls who get trapped in abusive relationships that not always but alas, in this case, ended up in rape and murder.
This was an occasion for our society to confirm its commitment not to allow men to hurt women because they feel their gender and their power and their age entitle them to. We missed it.