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Woman gets probation, mandated therapy after racist letter incident

Judge: ‘The world is passing people like her by’

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Deborah Cantwell

PLEADING GUILTY — Deborah Cantwell pleaded guilty to two of three misdemeanor charges.

Deborah Cantwell pleaded guilty last week to leaving a threatening, racist letter on her neighbor’s home, who has a biracial 15-year-old son, and she received a stint on unsupervised probation and mandated therapy to correct her “biases.”

The plea deal struck between Cantwell and the state involved the Greentown woman pleading guilty to two of the three counts she faced as a result of leaving a letter on her neighbor’s door last year, telling the family their biracial son wasn’t welcome while also referring to him using racial slurs. Via the deal, she pled guilty to criminal mischief and harassment, both B misdemeanors. The charge of intimidation, a class A misdemeanor, was dropped.

During the hearing in Howard Superior III, Judge Doug Tate oversaw Cantwell’s change of plea. At that time, he addressed Cantwell, dressing the woman down for her behavior.

“Ma’am, I don’t know what is going on in your head, but you’ve got to understand that in our society this behavior is not to be tolerated at any time at any place,” said Tate.

The judge allowed the family of the 15-year-old to speak prior to accepting the plea. The boy’s mother, Amy Pundt, expressed displeasure at the deal and said she felt as though the sentence of 180 days of unsupervised probation was inadequate. Instead Pundt said she believed Cantwell deserved supervised probation to ensure she would attend her ordered therapy.

“We do not believe that she is actually sorry. You don’t just change your thoughts like this overnight. Hatred and racism doesn’t just go away … We understand the punishment will not be as strict as we want it to be. We do wish it would be a little bit more,” said Pundt. “We would like the probation to be supervised because, as I said, we don’t believe that she thinks she’s really done something wrong.”

Tate, however, said he was “reluctantly” accepting the plea deal. The judge said that if he didn’t the defense would be able to seek a separate deal before another judge, a scenario, Tate said, he wished to avoid.

“With regards to this issue of whether or not she can be trusted to go to therapy, this is a condition of her probation,” said Tate. “If she doesn’t, that will be her choice, but she’ll answer to me. She won’t be answering to the probation department, even if I put her on supervised probation. She’ll be answering to me. If she doesn’t satisfy the sentence to my satisfaction, then I’m the one who will enforce that. I will say I don’t disagree with you. I do believe the plea is rather lenient. I am not in disagreement with you at all.”

Tate also addressed the boy who served as the target of Cantwell’s letter during the hearing. In speaking to him, the judge said he hoped the Greentown woman could change her behavior through counseling and that behavior like that would diminish as time passes.

“You’ve got to understand that society has changed to the point where things like this are looked at with a different light and a different microscope,” said Tate. “The world is changing … I hope through counseling and through help and this case that Mrs. Cantwell will begin to think this is not the way society needs to think. This is not the way society needs to treat people who are different. That is not the way the world is going. The world is passing people like her by.”