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THEIR OPINION: Don't let Bell out of prison

BISMARCK -- The supermax federal prison in Florence, Colo., was not designed to be user-friendly. Inmates are confined there, very securely, with few privileges. It's a minimally humane place, but that's all.

BISMARCK -- The supermax federal prison in Florence, Colo., was not designed to be user-friendly. Inmates are confined there, very securely, with few privileges. It's a minimally humane place, but that's all.

Kyle Bell has been there for eight years. He was convicted in 1999 of killing Jeanna North, an 11-year old.

Now, he's saying it was wrong for him to have been sent to the grim place he's in.

He should stay exactly where he is.

Bell began serving his life sentence in the Bismarck prison. His safety couldn't be guaranteed, so he was to be transferred to a facility in Oregon. He escaped from a transfer bus and was on the loose for almost three months. Apprehended, he was sent to Florence.

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He argues the conditions in the supermax amount to "cruel and unusual punishment," a manner of punishment that's prohibited by the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. The terminology, however, is older than the U.S. Constitution.

Here is one provision from the English Bill of Rights, 1689:

".?.?. excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."

The context was that the English Parliament was determined to establish frames of justice near the end of a particularly brutal century in that country. Torture long had been the usual prelude to an execution.

Anyone who has suffered through a scene late in the movie "Braveheart" has a notion of what punishment meant in an earlier time. Fortunately, the director of the film spared us a graphic view of Wallace being disemboweled and unmanned, and that his body was quartered for public display after his beheading.

And that was not an entirely unusual punishment. But it was unmistakably cruel and became more and more unusual.

The English parliamentarians did not give precise definitions of cruelty or what punishment is unusual, nor did the framers of the U.S. Constitution when they lifted the quote from English law almost verbatim.

They put forth a principle, though: Punishment should be proportional to the offense.

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It can be argued that an 11-year-old girl received no mercy nor justice from Bell, and that proportionality would mean that Bell should suffer a cruel death.

His appeal to a federal court is about his imprisonment, not about capital punishment, which state law does not allow where Bell was sentenced.

There's no denying that Bell has it hard where he is and that he'd have it easier in the prison in Bismarck, if he could be safe.

But it's his burden to argue that being where he is runs against the Eighth Amendment and that he isn't so much of a security risk that he deserves more freedom -- even, as he wants, to be freed from prison.

Doubtless, it would take a great deal of convincing before U.S. District Judge Dan Hovland would order a transfer, much less grant Bell freedom -- anywhere.

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