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Cozad's long trajectory.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Oregon's criminal justice system has shown itself to be ill-equipped to fix blame for the death of Linda Sue Foley of Coos Bay. Henry Cozad, the severely disabled 18-year-old son of Foley's boyfriend, has been ruled responsible for the killing but is not competent to stand trial. The young man's father, Fred Cozad, faces charges of criminal neglect, but any finding will come too late for all involved. Justice in this case can't be served after the fact, except in the form of lessons in how violence and ruined lives might be avoided.

Reporter Winston Ross told Henry Cozad's story in a two-part series July 12 and 13 in The Register-Guard. It's a story of poverty and squalor, a story of warning signs that were missed or ignored, a story of how a hesitation to intervene in a dysfunctional family's life can have fatal consequences.

Henry Cozad's capacity for violence was well known - he had attacked a dozen or more teachers and others over the years, inflicting serious injuries on some of them. His home life was understood to be one of deprivation - the boy often came to school inappropriately clothed and smelling of filth. Cozad's disability had been diagnosed at an early age - his mental acuity and ability to communicate were severely limited.

Even with all this evidence, the various institutions that might be presumed to have a capacity to respond found their options limited.

The South Coast Education Service District has an obligation to provide an education to students such as Cozad despite his record of physical attacks. The state's Children, Adults and Families Division is concerned with child welfare, not the potential victims of violent outbursts, and is reluctant to separate children from their families without solid evidence of neglect or abuse. Only one violent incident was referred to juvenile justice authorities, who decided against pursuing it as a criminal matter. All of these agencies work in an environment of staggering caseloads and tight budgets.

And so by March 12, when Cozad bludgeoned 59-year-old Linda Foley to death, a lot of people could say they saw something like this coming.

Even after the killing, Cozad's case left authorities with a tightly restricted range of motion. Cozad is unfit to stand trial - he could not comprehend the charges against him or participate in his defense. After a three-day hearing he was committed to a state-run residential facility, and will be evaluated for release every year. If Cozad is found not to be a threat to himself or others, he'll be free to go.

The Coos Bay World newspaper published an editorial calling for a high-level review, perhaps by the governor's office, to determine whether officials and agencies did their duty as evidence of Cozad's violent tendencies and disordered home life accumulated, and whether Oregon's laws allow an adequate response to crimes such as the one that ended Foley's life. Such a review would be helpful. The only way to give meaning to Foley's death would be to seek ways to identify and act upon similar cases before their trajectory leads to tragedy.
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Title Annotation:Editorials
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jul 15, 2009
Words:517
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