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Miscarriage of Justice Doesn't Turn Felon into a Folk Hero

A version of this story originally ran in The Virginian-Pilot on Jan 22, 2014.

Let's get something straight. When Travion Blount was a teenager, he suffered a massive miscarriage of justice. He was slammed with an astonishing prison sentence that would likely keep him in prison for the rest of his life.

Even so, the man is a felon, not a folk hero.

According to stories in The Pilot, this Norfolk 15-year-old was a member of a gang when he took part in the 2006 armed robbery that sent him and two others to prison. The trio invaded a house party and robbed about a dozen people of money and drugs at gunpoint.

News stories have made much of the fact that no one was shot during their crime.

So what?

Ask anyone who's been a victim of an armed robbery and they'll tell you it's a life-changing experience, a terrifying nightmare.

Blount's crime was a violent one. He deserved tough punishment.

After he was arrested, Blount was offered a deal much like the ones his older co-defendants took. His parents, lawyer and fellow gang members urged him to accept it. If he had, Blount likely would have spent about 18 years in prison.

That sounds about right.

Instead, despite repeated warnings, the teenager exercised his right to be stupid and demanded a trial by jury. He was convicted on multiple charges and sentenced to six life terms.

That was a jaw-dropping outcome. Corrective measures were needed.

Enter Gov. Bob McDonnell. In the final days of his term, McDonnell commuted Blount's sentence to 40 years. That sentence is still outlandishly long. After all, his co-defendants are serving 13 and 10 years each.

Supporters of Blount, including family members, gathered in a Norfolk church on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to offer thanks for McDonnell's actions and to seek justice for the Norfolk man.

Perfectly appropriate.

But a story about the service in Tuesday's Pilot was accompanied by a photo of a group of cute kids - some were relatives - wearing T-shirts with Blount's mug shot on them and the headline, lifted from the newspaper: "Life times six."

It was jarring. Most kids sport images of their heroes on their chests, not pictures of punks.

What were these parents thinking when they dressed their children in these things? Were they so caught up in the sentence that they never stopped to think about what sort of message they were sending?

Let's hope the parents said something like this as they handed them the shirts:

"See this guy on your T-shirt? That's Travion Blount. He did very bad things. You do not want to be like him.

"He skipped school. He joined a gang. He didn't listen to his mother. He took things that didn't belong to him. And he used a gun to steal.

"What he did was wrong, wrong, wrong.

"After he got caught, he acted like a jerk. He didn't listen to the people who loved him or the people paid to help him. Shoot, he didn't even listen to his friends. Now he's in prison for a very long time.

"Don't be like the guy on your shirt or you might go to jail someday, too."

Travion Blount received an unjust sentence when he was a juvenile. Seeking justice for him now is the right thing to do.

But he belongs in prison for many more years. He does not belong on any child's T-shirt.

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