Trista Eng's family has been waiting nearly 20 years for the justice promised them when the teen's killer was sentenced to death.

Once again, however, Hubert Lester Michael Jr. escaped his date with the executioner.

A federal appeals court last week delayed his scheduled death by lethal injection, giving a judge 14 days to explain why he refused to grant a stay.

But U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III was pretty clear in his Nov. 5 order -- it's time to get on with this.

"Indeed, to grant the relief requested by the petitioner would make the case a monumental example of the seemingly endless and oft-criticized federal habeas practice," he wrote. "Over 19 years after the heinous murder the petitioner has admitted committing, it is time to draw this affair to a close."

Michael, 56, was scheduled to die Thursday at the Rockview state prison -- an appointment he thoroughly deserved.

On July 2, 1993, Michael offered 16-year-old Trista a ride as she was walking to her job at Hardee's in Dillsburg. She accepted, at which point he kidnapped her, drove to to state game lands in Warrington Township and raped and killed her, according to court records.

He was charged with homicide in late August 1993, after Trista's body was found by his own family members. Michael had confessed the murder to his brother.

Michael pleaded guilty to first-degree murder on Oct. 11, 1994, and didn't challenge his death sentence. Since then, however, he's had several changes of heart, which his attorneys say were caused by mental health issues.


Advertisement

Last week's death warrant was the third Pennsylvania governors have signed for Michael. The first two were in 1996 and 2004. Both times, his execution was stayed.

Pennsylvania has the fourth-highest death row populatiuon, yet since 1972, when the state reinstated the death penalty, just three have been executed. Each of those inmates went willingly, having given up their appeals.

Obviously, if the sentence is carried out only when the condemned agrees to it, we are a death penalty state in name only.

We should just drop the pretense and save all involved the time, money and heartache. In all likelihood, the inmate will die a quiet, natural death behind bars either way.

But the families of the victims will be able to get on with their lives and never have to give the killer another thought if they choose not to.

Three times Trista's family has been through this, likely reliving their horror anew each time -- in hopes that just maybe this time justice will be done.

And they do want the sentence carried out.Suzanna Eng, Trista's mother, is a remarkable woman, "resolute in her determination to see justice for her daughter," said York County District Attorney Tom Kearney.

Still, he added, "It's got to be terrible for them. I have to believe that this is an emotional roller coaster no one deserves."

So why put them through it?

We can't blame the Engs or any other survivors for wanting the ultimate punishment after their loved ones are snatched away by monsters.

But no one should be offering that solution -- that ultimate closure -- to these families if they know it's highly unlikely it will ever be carried out.