Our View: Change the verdict

Our View: Change the verdict

Since the first issue of the Alexandria Times printed back in September 2005, a handful of crimes have particularly shocked city residents.

The shootout at Simpson Field on June 14, 2017 that grievously wounded House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) is certainly one. The murders by convicted serial killer Charles Severance, two of which took place after the Times was launched, is another.

And 10 years ago this week, Police Officer Peter Laboy was shot in the head at close range by a taxi driver next to Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy. Laboy was a husband, a father of four and by all accounts a good and effective cop who was doing his duty that February day when he rode his motorcycle up to Kashif Bashir’s taxi.

Today’s page one story, “Remembering the unthinkable after a decade” reflects on how Laboy survived the shooting and how the aftermath impacted his life, with the perspective of 10 years. Three key points stand out to us from the tragedy of Feb. 27, 2013:

1) Laboy may have been a hero that day in more ways than one. The image of Bashir, sitting in his taxicab at the intersection of Wilkes and S. St. Asaph streets – right across from LCTA – with a loaded gun is terrifying. The nearby playground was full of children. What might Bashir have done if Laboy hadn’t done his duty by locating and approaching the taxi?

2) It was a miracle that Laboy survived being shot in the head at close range. Surely his motorcycle helmet helped slow the bullet. The quick medevac and trauma team at Washington Hospital Center deserve credit, and as Laboy told the Times for today’s story, “There’s a reason that I’m still here.” Yet Laboy lost the career that he loved, and his life has not been the same since that fateful day.

3) It is outrageous that Virginia still, 10 years later, does not have a verdict that allows people who have committed crimes like Bashir to be locked up for life. There’s still nothing but a binary ruling of either guilty or not guilty by reason of insanity in cases dealing with mental illness. Alexandria’s Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter told the Times in 2014 that about 20 other states have a third option, “guilty but mentally ill,” that would enable someone like Bashir to be kept behind bars.

Because Virginia lacks this law, Bashir was tried but found not guilty by reason of insanity. Bashir spent five years in a mental health facility, where his paranoid schizophrenia was treated. Alexandria Circuit Court Judge James C. Clark found Bashir to be competent in June 2018 and ordered his release. Eight months later Bashir was back behind bars after setting fires at the homes of two members of his mental health treatment team. Bashir was sentenced to life in prison plus 11 years last summer, finally bringing closure for the Laboy family.

The public is now safe from Bashir, but what about others like him? Virginia’s code needs to change – and this should not be a partisan issue. Remembering the tragedy that befell Peter Laboy that February day 10 years ago should be impetus to finally revise the law.