BOSTON (CBS) – In the wake of the atrocity in Auburn on Sunday, where a police officer doing his job was ruthlessly slaughtered by a career criminal, public scrutiny understandably turns toward the criminal justice system that let the killer out on the street.

And the violent journey of Jorge Zambrano in and out of our courts and prisons is going to take some explaining. Busted for drug dealing in 2003, he graduated to resisting arrest and possession of a gun with a silencer in 2006, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and assault on a police officer in 2007, and then another assault and battery on a cop earlier this year.

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Officer Ronald Tarentino. (Photo credit: Auburn Police Department)

Officer Ronald Tarentino. (Photo credit: Auburn Police Department)

But before Officer Ronald Tarentino is even laid to rest, the apologists are already coming out of the woodwork, like the commenter on the Boston Globe website who wrote Monday in response to a column suggesting that perhaps the courts shouldn’t have been so lenient with Zambrano: “I find it revolting that instead of pandering to our instincts for revenge, there is not a call for better police procedures.”

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We know that imprisonment is at best an imperfect answer to our crime problems, and long prison terms for non-violent offenders are an unwise use of taxpayer dollars. But we are in deep trouble of we lack the ability to distinguish chronically-violent thugs from less-dangerous criminals.

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If judges and lawyers couldn’t see that Zambrano was a hand grenade with a loose pin and act accordingly, shame on them. And shame also on anyone who wants to make a political issue out of what appears to be sheer systemic incompetence.

Jon Keller