By Art Holliday
ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - "I can't even fathom how this happened to my son," said Mary Siler of Affton. "I can't even grasp how somebody comes out of the dark and shoots him in the head."
As the gun violence debate rages all over the country, it has become personal for Mary Siler of Affton. Her adult son, Brian, was walking his dog two days before Christmas when a gunman killed him near his home on Chippewa. The killer hasn't been caught.
"There's just this big gaping hole in me that I can't figure out how I'm going to fill," said Siler. "I can't put into words what it feels like as a parent."
"We want to send a message to anyone that uses a gun in a crime in the City of St. Louis that we're not going to tolerate it," said St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay.
That's why the mayor, Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce, Police Chief Sam Dotson and others are working with circuit judges to create a gun court. Crimes involving guns would be tried by two circuit judges assigned to an armed offender docket, the so-called gun court.
Nationally, gun courts have been around since the 1990s. Gun courts are typically designed to try teens and young adults who commit gun offenses that don't result in serious physical injury. The hope is that they'll be dealt with by the criminal justice system before they use a gun to kill someone. Slay says a gun court would deliver swifter justice to violent criminals.
"Hopefully they'll get a higher bond and get the appropriate sentence if convicted of the crime," said Slay. "If you use a gun you're going to pay for it and it's going to be immediate. You're going to get a higher bond so you can't go out on the street and victimize another person and hopefully, if you're convicted, you get a stricter sentence. Knowing that they're not only going to get arrested but that they're going to go right to prison and be held at a high bond. That's a bigger deterrent than when you come in, you book them, let them out on a bond and they're out back on the street again."
Mayor Slay believes a gun court might have resulted in a longer sentence for Ronnell Hood. In November 2010, Hood exchanged gunfire with police. Although Hood pleaded guilty, Slay says the sentence didn't fit the crime.
"He received a four year sentence. I think that was way, way too lenient, said Slay. "Just because you're a bad shot doesn't mean you get that big of a break."
Eddie Roth is Mayor Slay's Chief of Operations and has been involved for months in meetings with circuit judges to reach a consensus on how the gun court would work.
"The benefits of the specialized docket is that we can figure out what are the best practices, what are the interventions that for certain types of gun offenders that would lead them to engage in less criminal activity and less gun violence," said Roth. "There are gun cases that don't result in physical injury or death that strike right at the heart of community concerns about personal safety and well-being. These would be unlawful use of weapons cases and armed robbery cases where they don't result in somebody being physically injured, and those are the cases that today move through the system in a way that you might say is routine and not predictable types of outcomes, and we're not certain whether the interventions by the court in terms of punishment and setting of bail is having an impact."
Mayor Slay hopes to get the gun court started during 2012, but says there's still work to do before prosecutors, police, judges and other stakeholders reach agreement. The gun court proposal might eventually involve the state legislature and the governor.
"Trying to get a consensus isn't always easy," said Slay. I think everybody wants the same thing, they want the same result they want our neighborhoods safer. They want to make sure that violent offenders
and people who use guns get the appropriate sentences and the people of our city are safer as a result of a program like this."
Meanwhile, Mary Siler hopes fliers and publicity will help catch her son's killer.
"It's pretty scary to think that somebody could do that and go home and sleep," she said.