An editorial in the Aug. 28 Tomahawk Leader:
Last Tuesday, Peter Delp, a young man from Merrill, was sentenced in front of a judge for the felony arson he was convicted of committing in the town of Tomahawk last year. This fire was one of several that went along with a burglary spree throughout northern Wisconsin, affecting 65 property owners.
In the midst of the crime spree, Delp, along with his brother, fled the state to hide in Minnesota. Local law enforcement’s noose started tightening after a break in the case and authorities from Lincoln and Oneida counties traveled across state lines to assist in the arrest of the pair and recover stolen property. Back home, their accomplices also were taken into custody.
Delp rolled the dice at a jury trial in April and was convicted of arson after a short deliberation. At his sentencing hearing, the owners of the destroyed home said their trust in people has been gone since the crime, and what was once their peaceful get-away now makes them apprehensive to stay there. The district attorney asked for a 10-year prison sentence – six years of incarceration followed by four years of extended supervision. Delp was sentenced to one year in the county jail with Huber work release privileges followed by nine years of probation.
Some may say this is a second chance for a young life, but we only have to look as far as online court records to see Delp already was living on a second chance. Facing two felony counts of second-degree sexual assault of a child in 2001, a plea bargain ended with a plea to a misdemeanor charge of sex with a child and a sentence of 18 months’ probation and no jail time.
This latest sentence has to be disheartening for the law enforcement from here to Minnesota who spent countless hours investigating these crimes. As the burglary and arson ring caused ordinary citizens to start sleeping with one eye open, our deputies patrolled the rural roads hoping to catch up with the crew. When the case started to crack, investigators swooped in and did hundreds of more hours of investigations, interviews and follow-ups to this large and complex case. And as a result of this dedicated effort, Delp has to serve one year in the county jail.
We are not advocating prison sentences for everyone and we do believe in second chances. But after Delp’s first burglary he had a chance to stop, after his first arson he had a chance to stop. When headlines blared in local newspapers, including the Tomahawk Leader, about the destruction and fear their crime spree was causing amongst property owners, Delp had a chance to stop. But he continued. And we have to wonder, has he learned a lesson?
The family who was the victim in this, too, has a second chance. A second chance to rebuild their property that was destroyed, a second chance to rebuild their trust in mankind. Let’s just hope that their second chance is not ruined by the next group of burglars and arsonists who will probably be well aware of the lenient sentence handed down to the arsonist who went before them in Lincoln County Court.
(Note: Delp is facing six other charges, four of them felonies related to the burglary spree, and he has not been found guilty of any of those crimes. The other defendants in these cases who are facing felony charges have not yet been found guilty and are presumed innocent.)