Sometimes you just stand there shaking your head, mouth agape, wondering what the heck just happened.

When the news broke back in July 2012 that Brookfield resident Joseph Duffy had been arrested and charged with systematically and cruelly neglecting and abusing his disabled, bed-ridden wife, Mary Jane Duffy, it provoked a reaction of disgust and fury.

The Cook County Medical Examiner had ruled Mary Jane Duffy’s death a homicide as a result of neglect.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart called the case “absolutely heartbreaking.”

“How anyone could treat another human being, specifically a loved one, with such neglect and disregard for suffering is unfathomable to me,” Dart said.

Judge Geary Kull, who presided over Joseph Duffy’s bond hearing, called Duffy’s actions “the most offensive thing I’ve ever seen.”

For the next two and half years, Duffy sat in Cook County Jail, awaiting trial. Finally, in February he quietly accepted a plea deal. No press releases this time about justice being served and warning that such actions would be dealt with severely in the future.

Instead, the judge in the case — Geary Kull as it turned out — sentenced Joseph Duffy to five years. Duffy was packed off to Stateville where, upon arriving, officials deemed him eligible for parole, since he had already served more than half the sentence.

He was placed back on a bus and driven back to Cook County, a parolee. Two and a half years in jail for purposely inflicting years of pain, suffering and death on his helpless wife.

For comparison, there was the case out of Riverside last year where two brothers got in an argument over a woman. One of the men stabbed the other in the thigh with a box cutter. No one died. The injuries weren’t even that bad.

The offender had a record, which aggravated things, we guess. He got five years, too.

Perhaps the sentence passed on Joseph Duffy represented something more, however. Perhaps it represented the state’s utter failure to ensure Mary Jane Duffy’s safety and well-being throughout the period of almost a decade, when they knew full well she was suffering from dementia and was increasingly dependent on a man who shamelessly told police, as they took Mary Jane to the hospital for the final time, “Great, now I’m going to lose her Social Security and pension check.”

The Illinois Department of Health and Human Services knew all about Joseph Duffy and his cruelty. It had been documented first in 2003 — eight years before Mary Jane’s death — and reinforced by more incidents in 2007 and 2009. The state had even provided a daily in-home assistant for Mary Jane Duffy starting in October 2007.

While Joseph Duffy is utterly culpable for his actions and should have received as harsh a punishment as possible for the suffering he inflicted, the state of Illinois utterly failed to protect Mary Jane Duffy, who was completely at the mercy of her husband and had even sworn out an order of protection against him.

They knew. They could have intervened. And they didn’t.

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