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The Facchini files: Mercy should temper justice, but when it involves kids?

My ongoing education invariably leads me back to lyrics from Don  Henley: "The more I know, the less I understand."

And so I need help today understanding the fully suspended sentence and five years of probation granted to former Norwich Free Academy assistant coach Anthony Facchini, amid allegations that he had sexual relations with two minor students while working at NFA.

A few months earlier, the issuing judge, Hillary Strackbein, presided over a case from a former Waterford Country School educator who was sentenced to six months in prison, followed by five years of probation, for having an illegal sexual relationship with a 15-year-old boy who lived at the school and attended a life-skills program that she supervised.

From the account written here in The Day: "Judge Strackbein agreed to the minimum sentence but said a message has to go out that parents shouldn't have to worry about things like this happening when they send their children to school."

"This sends a message that if a teacher engages in this type of behavior, there will be incarceration," the judge said.

Except that Mr. Facchini, who engaged in similar behavior, was given no incarceration. Mr. Facchini initially had faced two counts of second-degree sexual assault in connection with allegations from 2017 and 2018.

Mr. Facchini pleaded no contest in December to one charge of risk of injury to a minor for his relationship with a female student who was 15 to 16 years old during his relationship with her. For that charge, he was sentenced to a five-year suspended sentence and probation.

He also had pleaded no contest to a charge of reckless endangerment for his relationship with a female who was 17 to 18 years old. For that charge, he was sentenced Wednesday to a six-month suspended sentence and two years of probation. The sentences will be served concurrently.

Yet we hearken Judge Strackbein's words: "If a teacher engages in this type of behavior, there will be incarceration."

The more I know, the less I understand.

There is great risk here in sounding like one of those get-off-my-lawn, I-want-my-pound-of-flesh grouches whose arias of moral outrage may be rhetorically useful, but miss the bounds of decency and humanity. Still, I must ask the question:

Do you think it's permissible for a teacher or a coach who holds a position of authority to engage in sexual relationships with two students?

If the answer is yes, I must ask: Who, then, is looking out for our kids? We entrust their safety, health and well-being to adults on a school campus. If adults in a position of authority betray that responsibility — resulting in sexual relationships — do we not need our legal system to work scrupulously and conscientiously enough to send a clear message?

I need help understanding this.

What I'm seeing: Other adults on the NFA campus whose transgressions (if they were transgressions at all in some cases) were actually treated worse than Mr. Facchini.

Careers were lost. Careers were altered. Relationships were damaged. There are lawsuits pending. Life at NFA will never be the same.

I get this much: It's not easy to be a judge, prosecutor or defense attorney. What they must see every day. I also understand the concept espoused in the Merchant of Venice about mercy tempering justice. And I certainly don't suggest throwing away the key here.

But this issue ought to inspire at least a patch of common ground on the village green. There is nothing more sacrosanct than protecting our kids from predatory adults. I just don't see justice served in its highest form here when so many people have been hurt, beginning with kids.

I hope we can all move on from this. Heal slowly and steadily. Mr. Facchini should consider himself fortunate. I wouldn't have been as magnanimous. Mercy should temper justice in many cases. But when it involves kids? Our legal system needs to do better next time.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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