Tahlequah Daily Press

Editorials

June 4, 2014

Set of taxpayer-funded dentures are last thing convicted killer needs

TAHLEQUAH — If James L. Kidwell is too good to eat soup, let him eat cake – or some other food soft enough that he can pulverize it by bumping his gums.

Kidwell, a Tulsa County triple murderer, has been fighting for more than a decade to get dentures. But last month, a federal judge prudently tossed out his lawsuit against the state and corrections workers. By “the state,” we mean us taxpayers, because we’re the ones footing the bill to keep that man behind bars for three life-without-parole sentences. Yet he feels we haven’t been doing a good enough job taking care of him. Poor thing has endured digestion problems and has lost weight since he was unceremoniously chunked into the hoosegow.

The family of Fred and Rebecca Barney aren’t losing any sleep over Kidwell’s toothless state. He shot the couple inside their home in Tulsa, then likely set a fire to cover the evidence. Kenneth Maxwell, a 24-year-old good Samaritan who stopped outside the house to report the fire to 911, was also blown away.

Kidwell says corrections workers have been giving him the “runaround” since 2005, when he demanded false teeth immediately following his incarceration. Pardon us if we don’t shed any tears because he can’t masticate a good steak.

The Department of Corrections has a policy that affords dentures only to inmates who can show a medical necessity. Kidwell claims he has one: constipation, resulting from his inability to chew food. Hasn’t he heard of Ex-Lax? At any rate, although Kern conceded the possibility, the expiration of a statute of limitation was a deciding factor.

The people of Oklahoma already paid for the removal of 13 of Kidwell’s remaining 14 teeth when he went to the slammer, and the last remaining snag followed them out his maw a year later. Still, Kidwell has used taxpayer money to buy taffy, kettle corn crunchy cookies, pizza and other food items unsuitable for the dentally impaired.

It is incumbent upon taxpayers to give the minimum care to inmates because, despite the despicable nature of their crimes, they are still human beings and entitled to their dignity. Our Constitution also prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment,” which forces us to accede to our better natures. But Kidwell and others don’t need dentures to survive.

Thousands of hard-working Oklahomans must go without even nominal dental care because they can’t afford it. A set of dentures would be even farther out of their reach: on average, $2,000 to $2,500 for someone without insurance. And implants and bridges? Those can range from $7,000 to $45,000. Yet James Kidwell, who killed three people in cold blood, thinks he deserves them free.

Kidwell’s lucky he didn’t get the death penalty. If he put as much thought into his diet as he did his crimes, he could figure out a way to survive on soft foods.

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