Judge provokes uproar in domestic beating case

Published June 11, 1993|Updated Oct. 9, 2005

A man finds his estranged wife in bed with another man and beats her so badly she needs 17 stitches in her face. A judge accepts a plea bargain with a 29-day jail sentence and says the attack wasn't "completely unprovoked."

The ensuing uproar from victims' rights advocates, police and others about the case of Stephen and Susan Sarno has prompted a statewide debate over domestic violence. One advocacy group asked for the prosecutor's resignation Thursday.

Gov. Steve Merrill said Wednesday he would ask for a transcript of Judge William O'Neil's May 27 remarks in Carroll County Superior Court and meet with the court system's chief justice.

"The women of this state must believe and know that if they are victims of crime we stand with them, we will fight for them and we expect them to be treated with the respect that everyone else deserves in this system," Merrill said.

Sarno, 40, of Assonet, Mass., faced 3{ to 7 years in jail on a felony assault charge for the August 1992 beating of Susan Sarno. But he agreed to plead guilty to misdemeanor assault and was given 29 days in jail, to be served on weekends.

Mrs. Sarno, 32, also of Assonet, had been separated from her husband for a year when the attack took place during a family camping trip.

According to excerpts of a court transcript, the judge said the beating was tragic and wrong, but "I can't conclude that it was completely unprovoked for a husband, even though separated, to find his wife in a situation such as that."

Wolfeboro police were outraged at the plea bargain, saying there was more than enough evidence for a felony conviction.

"This is the most pathetic excuse for justice I've ever seen," Lt. Robert Tierney said last week. "This lady has permanent facial disfigurement."

O'Neil told the Union Leader of Manchester that he has "always been very sensitive to domestic-violence issues."