A wounded Iraq War veteran who gunned down his wife, a Wauwatosa police officer, while she was on duty Christmas Eve will get a life sentence on Friday.
But Benjamin Sebena should at least have a chance for parole, according to a sentencing memorandum filed Tuesday that details the psychological and physical effects of his combat experience, including a claim to have killed 68 people during his military service.
The memo also suggests Sebena believes he killed his wife, Jennifer Sebena, so she’d go to heaven, fearful she’d follow a threat to take her own life if he committed suicide first.
Sebena tried to pursue an insanity plea, but doctors who examined him said his condition did not support it, though he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
This is the summary of a sad story that I have been following since December. Not only because the victim’s family was friends with mine, but also because this tragedy illustrates two cracks in America: support for returning war veterans and the “lock ‘em up” attitude towards criminals with mental illness.
It is clear that some part of the system failed him in identifying his illness—and providing him the adequate tools to overcome his problems. He failed himself–by committing murder—and we, as a society, failed him for not taking some of his symptoms seriously. I do not condone Benjamin Sebena’s behavior—no matter the trauma he endured during the war and the struggles he faced upon his return—but I do not think he should be shuffled into a cell and forgotten about. I disagree with Sebena’s lawyer; I don’t think this man should necessarily be eligible for parole, but I also don’t think he should be thrown into prison with other inmates convicted of murder. He needs rehabilitation as much as we need to try and study and understand him—and the limits of the human psyche.
Yes, he was working with other veterans and with church Elders, but he had talked of suicide in the weeks before the murder. Mrs. Sebena was right to lock up their guns, but it wasn’t enough.
There should be more options available for both our struggling war veterans and those afflicted with mental illness. If we choose to view these demons as taboo or “handle-able” by those who are afflicted, our society is doomed to see further tragedies. Ignoring a problem doesn’t make it disappear.
Our veterans deserve a better chance at achieving normalcy when they return from war. As well, those who are affected by mental illness need to have more access to channels focused on understanding and managing illness.