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Confidence in judge's courage

Published Sep. 10, 2005

Time is a merciless judge of bold gambles, but the one taken by Circuit Judge Jack Espinosa Jr. should raise public confidence in the Hillsborough judiciary.

The scene in Espinosa's court was all too familiar for the lawyers, police, victims and families thrown together in the aftermath of a violent crime. At issue for Espinosa was whether to send 13-year-old Tavaris Knight to prison for life for raping a woman in a Tampa park last year. Espinosa sentenced him to 15 years instead.

"I refuse to give up on a (13) year old," the judge said. He urged Knight, a middle school dropout who has the mental capacity of an 8-year old, to learn to read and write and acquire life skills. "It's all up to you," the judge said. "You can do it. There are people here who have faith in you."

Faith in his abilities has never been a part of this teenager's life. Whether Espinosa's faith came too late or was undeserved remains to be seen. What we have, however, is a vivid picture of a compassionate and courageous judge who took responsibility for the awesome reach of his authority. We share the judge's hope he got it right.