Taking candy from a baby is bad.

Stealing pants from needy children is worse.

Hey, candy, though dandy, is not a necessity.

Pants are - at least in our supposedly civilized society.

So if you're still ducking the sad reality that some people are just no, er, darn good, review this ugly evidence:

A thief - or thieves - took 372 pairs of pants last week from a West Ashley nonprofit Presbyterian ministry, Hands of Christ, that was planning on giving them to poor children (see story on page A4).

No, it wasn't a high-stakes heist. It was, however, a lowdown reminder of man's inhumanity to man.

So how can we prevent crime, apprehend criminals, then impose "justice" that fairly punishes them and deters other potential malefactors?

Our answers keep shifting - at times for the enlightened better. For instance, Americans have finally caught on to the folly of incarcerating so many non-violent drug offenders.

But what about creeps who purloin poor kids' pants?

What about violent brutes?

Monday's front page reported that three convicted killers condemned to die by Dorchester County juries have gotten reprieves in the last year.

One of those death sentences was downgraded to life in prison because the killer is "mentally challenged." The state is appealing that ruling - as it should. After all, what about the fatal challenge that monster inflicted on the 87-year-old woman he robbed, raped, tortured and murdered in her Summerville home in 1996?

The S.C. Supreme Court has ordered new sentencing hearings for the other two convicted murderers in the story, citing defense deficiencies.

One of those rulings, announced last week, was based on an attorney's failure to properly present the childhood abuse suffered by a man who in 1998 pumped four shotgun rounds into a 27-year-old woman in Knightsville.

The long way out

If you don't think such past ordeals should be a get-out-of-execution card for first-degree murderers, how about our cruel inability to put them to death in a timely manner?

The July 23 injection administered to Joseph Rudolph Wood III took more than two hours to live up to its "lethal" billing at Florence State Prison in Arizona. Some of the spectacle's spectators said he repeatedly gasped in pain. Others said he was comatose throughout. There's no dispute, though, about this:

Wood shot his ex-girlfriend and her father to death in 1989.

Back on the home-crime front, North Charleston police said Wednesday that two boys, one 16 and one 15, face charges of attempted murder and armed robbery from a Tuesday shooting outside Northwoods Mall (see story, Page A3).

Is this what our Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote the Second Amendment?

And South Carolina is ranked No. 1 nationally in the rate of men killing women, according to the Violence Policy Center.

That disgraceful distinction was pointed out in a Wednesday story about the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee's consideration of new proposals to make it tougher for woman beaters to get guns.

Meanwhile, the fate of the pig who was swimming at Sullivan's Island last week remained a mystery Wednesday.

As reported by colleague Prentiss Findlay, a barbecue aficionado, in Wednesday's paper, Sullivan's Island Police Chief Danny Howard would say only that the 25-pound porker has been "relocated and taken care of according to state law."

Taken care of?

Sounds suspicious.

Then again, as Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote in "Crime and Punishment": "A hundred suspicions do not make a proof."

The joke's on whom?

As for a troubled youth's role in crime (and punishment), we turn to another classic, the 1966-68 ABC series "Batman."

In a first-season episode, Dick Grayson (played by Burt Ward) tries to ease the shame of cheerleader Susie (Donna Loren) over becoming an accomplice to the Joker by telling her:

"Heck, Susie, it wasn't all your fault. I mean, with your unhappy childhood and a broken home and everything, no wonder you fell for that crook's phony promises."

Yet before dismissing larceny as a minor crime, ponder this edifying exchange from another first-season episode:

Batman (Adam West): "In our well-ordered society, protection of private property is essential."

Robin (Ward): "Yes, you're right, Batman. That's the keystone of all law and order."

And if you want to learn how to help right the wrong of those stolen pants, call Westminster Presbyterian at 766-8311.

Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is wooten@postandcourier.com.