By editorial board • 

Broken lives easier to avoid than to mend

News item: Drifter Xavier Wolfgang is convicted in the brutally bludgeoning that killed a 77-year-old man who took him in as caretaker for property near Sheridan.

News item: Authorities opt against seeking the death penalty for white supremacists Holly Grigsby and Joey Pedersen in a three-state killing spree claiming four lives, including that of a young musician from Lafayette.

News item: Local tough Robert Chaffin, who logged a string of convictions before turning 21, says he has no problem doing 10 years for a knifepoint convenience store robbery and vicious jail assault.

The connection may not be immediately obvious, but it boils down to this — lives broken beyond all reasonable hope of repair. These people are so delusional, anti-social, dysfunctional, narcissistic, drug-addled and unfeeling they are beyond redemption.

Wolfgang, Pedersen and Grigsby aren’t likely to ever take a free step again, but they represent the exception rather than the rule. Chaffin, who probably will re-emerge at 32, represents the rule.

In a remarkably lucid piece of self-analysis, Chaffin told the court doing 10 years in prison didn’t worry him. He would have a rigid routine to follow, and all his needs would be met.

What worried him was getting out and having to make his way in the much less regimented real world. He said he’d like to get straight but harbored doubt about his prospects — as do we.

The real challenge isn’t fixing people as broken as this group. The cost was $30,105 a year in 2012, and headed ever up, but we largely can rely on keeping them locked up. No, the real challenge is preventing people from getting this badly broken in the first place.

Wolfgang was a wanted felon when he fled California for Oregon. During his stay in the county jail, he developed twisted sexual obsessions with two female staffers and crafted a crude representation of one out of human hair.

A heroin addict, Grigsby gave birth to a son while in prison. She called him her “little Aryan warrior” but dumped him when he got in the way of her relationship with Pedersen, a heavily tattooed cage fighter who embraced violence and racism.

Pedersen was coming off a 17-year prison stretch, encompassing virtually his entire adult life, when he met Grigsby. They launched their spree with the grisly slaying of Pedersen’s dad and stepmom, who had invited him into their home and tried to help him get back on his feet.

A veteran defense lawyer said Chaffin had one of the “saddest, most difficult life stories” she’d ever heard.

If there’s one thing many broken people share, it’s childhoods marked by anger, pain, violence and upheaval. As a result, they turn to drink, drugs and delusion, and lash out with little provocation. That’s no excuse, but it is an explanation.

Hope may have evaporated for this quartet of repeat offenders, but what about Grigsby’s little boy, Danny, and other troubled youth? That’s where we need to turn our attention if we want to avoid yet more heinous crimes leading to yet more expensive, after-the-fact incarcerations.

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