It's a knotty question, but boiling her in oil wouldn't do much good. So many people have axes to grind -- the women (a small group, one hopes) who want all men executed if they look sidewise, and the men who want rape legalized because present rape laws are a chill factor.

In a quest for justice we need not argue at great length that a woman should not send a man to jail for rape when in fact she has never laid eyes on him. She should not pick him at random as a victim, merely because she thinks she's pregant (by another man) and thinks it will look better if she pretends to be a victim.

In the notorious Dotson case, the woman evidently lied so convincingly when she testified in the trial that convicted him that now the judge cannot believe her new testimony that she simply lied. Well, a lot of people would have less trouble than the judge with that.

She has taken to religion. She sees now that her lies were wrong, and she wants the sufferings of the man she sent to jail to end.

It is better for her to confess, all these years later, and try to undo the damage she has done, than to recant on her deathbed 40 years hence, I suppose. And it takes courage to confess, after the guy has spent six years in jail, that she framed him. People are not going to like her.

Except, of course, the growing number of loons in the republic who think any remorse for a crime is just so marvelous that it makes all odds even.

If you swipe a million bucks and spend it and confess and offer to pay five bucks a week out of your salary to repay it, you have done all that can possibly be expected, according to this school of thought. If you shoot a man to kill him then give him mouth-to-mouth therapy till the ambulance comes and he lives (though paralyzed) for 20 years afterward, you have shown the goodness of your heart by your efforts to save him. If you kill an old lady's companion poodle with an ax while she screams, but make it all up by writing her a note how sorry you are, enclosing a brand-new cat, surely nobody can complain of your action. You have done the best you can.

In the rape case, Dotson would soon be eligible for parole, and presumably would soon be free, even without her admission, and she may have thought he might then wander over to her house and blow her head off, a thing we cannot approve of, but which may well have occurred to her. Her motives for confessing now may not be as pure as she lets on.

But assume her motives are flawless. She now sees the evil she has done, and wants to set things right as much as she can. Let's say she knows her liability in this matter and is ready to face whatever penalties the law may have in store for her. Possibly Dotson would sue her "for everything she's worth," but if she is a woman of no wealth, that would not be much restitution, would it?

And as I say, boiling her in oil would not accomplish much that I can see. Neither would a jail sentence. The time to have got her out of society was before she did the guy in, not after all the damage is done.

So what should be done with such a person? It is one of the central dilemmas of the criminal law, which operates on the theory that crimes affect the state as well as the specific person injured. So how is the state to be repaid for the damage done to the state?

You have to assume, of course, that the woman who sent Dotson to jail is now telling the truth, as she has insisted in any number of interviews.

Is her crime to be atoned by a sentence for perjury? By money damages to the wronged Dotson? By her new life of piety?

The punishment should fit the crime but none does. Thanks to her, an innocent man (if she is telling the truth) has been locked up for years, and thanks to her, juries will rightly think longer and more skeptically about any woman's charge of rape.

Society, which may seem impersonal enough at times, still depends on a degree of trust among citizens. When a citizen swears on a stack of Bibles that she was raped by a particular man, a jury will think she has no advantage in lying about it, and will believe her. Then when it turns out she did lie, for her own advantage, we see the folly of believing what is sworn to on a stack of Bibles. You wonder how many other guys are in jail, not just for rape, on the basis of flat lies.

For myself, I do not accept the concept of capital punishment. But if exceptions are ever to be made, they might well be made for court witnesses who coldly, over a long period of time, deliberately and with great flair lie in order to send an innocent citizen to jail. And if an exception were to be made in such a case, so destructive to the confidence we ought to have in our court system, then boiling in oil might be cruel, but it ought not be unusual.