It probably won’t surprise you to learn that we can tell which stories attract the most searchers and viewers on our website.

It probably won’t surprise you either to learn that crime stories — whether they’re new or old — do extremely well for us in those metrics, just like they’re a staple of books, cable television and various websites and blogs. We have a running joke in the newsroom, “Some show must have replayed a Betty Wilson episode,” when we see a bunch of people looking at our past stories on the Gadsden native convicted of hiring a hitman to kill her husband a quarter-century ago.

Some might call that prurient; we aren’t going to sit in judgment. We’ll just note that there’s long been a public appetite for crime fiction — Edgar Allan Poe published “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” in 1841; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published his first Sherlock Holmes story in 1887; Dashiell Hammett created Sam Spade in 1930; Raymond Chandler introduced the world to Philip Marlowe in 1939; and Mickey Spillane’s first Mike Hammer novel was published in 1947. A fascination for the real thing is a natural offshoot of that.

Still, we imagine that those fascinated folks might be less enamored if the perpetrator of a crime was benefiting from a revisit or re-enactment. The Alabama Legislature took a proactive step against such a scenario this year with the passage of a bill sponsored by Rep. Proncey Robertson, R-Moulton, that was dubbed “Lisa’s Law.”

It was named after Lisa Ann Millican, a Georgia teenager who in 1982 was kidnapped, abused and murdered — her body dumped into Little River Canyon in DeKalb County — by Judith Ann Neelley and her husband, Alvin.

That story has been consistently revived and revisited over the years, to the consternation of Millican’s family, through the controversy over former Gov. Fob James’ “as he was headed out the door” commutation of Judith Neelley’s death sentence, and in true crime shows and at least one book.

Robertson’s bill requires any payment of $5,000 or more to someone convicted of a violent crime — specifically, “a felony offense involving moral turpitude” — for that person’s input to be used in a book, broadcast or show to be reported to the state attorney general’s office. The AG’s office in turn would notify victims and their families, who would have five years to seek restitution or damages from the perpetrator.

There are no First Amendment issues here; legitimate news stories are exempted (and no reputable journalist would ever countenance paying a murderer for his or her thoughts). The bill also doesn’t ban those convicted of violent crimes from sharing what’s on their minds with the universe if they’re so inclined.

They just can’t make more than a relative pittance of money from it; otherwise, they’ll have to pay those whose lives they shattered, directly or indirectly.

No amount of cash, of course, will change or reverse those events.

Doesn’t matter — this is justice, the right thing to do.

An editorial from the Gadsden (Alabama) Times.

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