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Con disfigured by suicide attempt costs taxpayers arm and a leg

On June 30, 2002, Daryl Strenke paid his ex-girlfriend, Samantha Verby, a visit at her home. He told her that he wanted to talk. When she invited him in, he aimed a 12-gauge shotgun at her and fired, killing her instantly. Verby's 7-year-old daughter was just a few feet away.

Strenke then turned the gun on himself, in an apparent suicide effort. He failed. He did, however, manage to blow off half of his face. The disfigured Strenke is now serving a 30-year prison sentence for intentional homicide. Normally, that would be the end of the story.

However, Strenke's bungled suicide attempt left him with significant injuries that make it nearly impossible for him to eat or speak normally. According to Strenke's mother, Darlene, he has no teeth and only part of a nose. He is, she says, in constant pain.

As a result, this month, the Columbia Correctional Institute will begin a series of expensive surgeries to repair his face. Who is fitting the bill for the surgeries? Wisconsin taxpayers.

Strenke will have the surgeries in prison, free of charge to him. A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections explained that there is a legal responsibility "to deliver adequate health care to inmates under its custody." That apparently includes health care issues caused by the individual inmate.

While actual dollar estimates weren't available for the surgery, many suggested that the series of surgeries could run into hundreds of thousands of dollars, not including up to three months of "post-op" recovery. By way of comparison, the cost of a more routine outpatient cosmetic procedure like a "regular" face lift can be as high as nearly $20,000, anesthesia and hospital fees included.

Spending that kind of money doesn't sit well with many taxpayers in Wisconsin, where the government expects a shortfall of nearly $6.6 billion for the annual budget. In order to fill the holes in the budget, the Governor had proposed serious cuts, including laying off more than 1,100 state workers. At a time when many law-abiding citizens are suffering, many wonder why a convicted killer should get such a break?

Strenke's mother, Darlene, understands this sentiment but says, at the end of the day, prisoners deserve to be treated fairly. She adds, "They're still a human being."

Samantha Verby's mother, however, feels that Strenke should have to live with the consequences of his crime.

What do you think? Did the Department of Corrections get it right? Or should Strenke have to live with the consequences?<

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