Seven years ago, Martin Pang not only said he was sorry he killed four Seattle firemen, he pledged to spend all eternity making amends. "I take full and total...

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Seven years ago, Martin Pang not only said he was sorry he killed four Seattle firemen, he pledged to spend all eternity making amends.

“I take full and total responsibility for my actions,” Pang wrote, after he agreed to 35 years in prison for setting one of the most disastrous fires in city history.
“[My actions] were wrong and I must carry this cross for the rest of my natural life and on into my next lives, as I am a Buddhist. I can only hope to atone for them, and I will.”

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For an eternal quest, that sure didn’t last long.

This week, the guy who torched his family’s warehouse in 1995 asked the courts to spring him from prison. He says the judge imposed an illegal and unduly harsh sentence.

It doesn’t seem to matter that the judge gave him the very prison term Pang agreed to back when he was accepting full responsibility.

Nor does Pang seem to recall that he is, in fact, guilty. Or that he fled the country and made the deal to avoid an even longer sentence at trial.

And it seems to be lost on Pang and his attorney that they were not mistreated by the justice system in any way.

No, Pang is just working the angles one more time.

Kind of a strained moral choice for someone who’s studying to be a Buddhist priest. Maybe he hasn’t gotten to the chapter on karma.

Pang is invoking an important constitutional principle: the right to have a jury vet disputed facts before you get a longer-than-typical sentence for your crime.

But details of the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that Pang is citing only expose his shameless opportunism.

In that case, the defendant pleaded guilty, like Pang did. But the judge went off on his own to impose a prison term three years longer than even the prosecution had suggested.

Most crucially, the facts the judge used to justify the extra-long sentence were in dispute.

Nothing is in dispute about Pang’s sentence. Not only did he agree to it, but the factors justifying the long prison term were uncontested. They were the four deaths, injuries to numerous firefighters, huge economic losses, Pang’s planning of the fire, and the fire’s strong emotional effect on the city.

I can testify to that last one. I was there when they pulled from the ruins the charred body of Lt. Gregory Shoemaker of Maple Valley. The futile nobility of 200 firefighters lined up to salute his corpse made me wobble at the knees.

Later, my professional veneer crumbled and I cried openly — along with thousands of others — when firefighters held a wake through downtown streets.

It’s true that emotion can overwhelm reason when a heinous criminal gets off on a “technicality.” Many times these so-called technicalities are actually fundamental tenets of the justice system that must be defended.

That is not the case with Pang. His plea deal was an example of justice done right. He got what he deserved.

Even he said so. Back when he was on his eternal quest for atonement.

Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Friday.

Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com