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Originally published December 1, 2009 at 4:01 PM | Page modified December 1, 2009 at 6:01 PM

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Lynne Varner / Times editorial columnist

Those who aided cop killer should suffer swift, severe legal consequences

It is a disgrace that Maurice Clemmons, suspected of gunning down four Lakewood police officers, may have received transportation, cash and other assistance during his two days on the lam. Criminal charges appropriately await those who aided and abetted him.

Seattle Times editorial columnist

I normally oppose the death penalty because of wrongful convictions exposed by DNA evidence. I would've made an exception for the killer of four police officers shot as they sat in a cafe.

Moot point obviously. The suspect, Maurice Clemmons, is dead, shot by a Seattle police officer who happened upon the man near a stolen car, its engine running and hood up.

Clemmons likely committed one of the most heinous crimes in Puget Sound history. But his death doesn't mean all who should be held accountable have been. Next up for the perp walk are the friends and relatives said to have aided and abetted Clemmons since Sunday's shooting.

A community's outrage and the full weight of the law ought to await them.

A public horrified by the unprovoked killing of four Lakewood police officers, three men and one woman, ought to spur calls for swift and harsh criminal charges.

There should be no expectation of slipping through legal loopholes, as Clemmons did so many times. The man had a lengthy criminal record in Arkansas and Washington. If someone had been keeping a tally of the totality of his crimes, Clemmons might have been stopped sooner.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, he of the tough-on-crime Republican Party, in 2000 swallowed an "I've repented" line from Clemmons and commuted his lengthy prison sentence. During a later prison stint, Clemmons successfully reprised his "I won't do it again" lie and walked out a free man.

I am appalled that Clemmons was so believable as evidence of his rage mounted. One judge accused Clemmons of threatening him. In another case, Clemmons was in his holding cell when he threw a lock at a bailiff, missed and hit his own mother, who had come to bring him fresh clothes for court.

He didn't stop once he moved to Washington state. Last May, Clemmons and two cousins faced off against a Pierce County sheriff's deputy responding to reports that Clemmons had hurled a landscaping-sized brick through the window of a passing car. One cousin grabbed the officer's wrist; Clemmons punched the deputy in the face.

Cops often face scrutiny about their use of force, but on that day Clemmons got off light when he wasn't shot.

Days later, Clemmons sexually assaulted two female relatives, ages 11 and 12. Yet he still had friends and family at his beck and call.

Investigators believe that since Sunday's police shooting, Clemmons eluded police with the help of a wide network of friends and family who gave him shelter, transportation and cash. Police detained Clemmons' sister after suspecting she bandaged him and drove him to another relative's house.

Three men face criminal charges for allegedly helping Clemmons. One man is suspected of acting as a getaway driver after the slayings.

We have a problem.

Clemmons was nuts. But let's not write his helpful buds and relatives off as misguided enablers. Serious dangers are posed by people with a callous disregard for the law and those who represent it. Thanks to the enablers' assistance, the death toll could've mounted as a fugitive did whatever it took to stay ahead of the cops.

In less than a month, five police officers in the region have been shot and killed. I don't think we have a war on the men and women in blue. After all, more cops die from automobile-related incidents in a chase or traffic stop than from gunfire, according to the International Association of Police Chiefs.

Instead, this is what one police expert called the contagion effect, or what happens when the disrespect a few have for the law and those who represent it spreads to others. Only a small percentage of people will ever pick up a gun and use it to murder another human being, but it ought to be unacceptable that when they do, they are fed, clothed and assisted like normal people.

Lynne K. Varner's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is

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