The subtitle of journalist Peter Meyer's new book, "A Case of Murder in Vermont," gives away right from the start an unusual bias of the author, one bias among others that in the end seriously diminish the good work he has done in researching and narrating a 1981 atrocity and its aftermath in Essex Junction, Vt. The facts of Meyer's story are these. On a May afternoon, 16-year-old Louis Hamlin and 15-year-old Jamie Savage entered a small woods armed with pellet guns, a paring knife and a vague plan to "get a couple of girls." Unhappily, they met Melissa Walbridge and Meghan O'Rourke, two sixth-graders taking a shortcut home from school; they overpowered the two 12-year-olds and dragged them into the brush, where they raped, sodomized and tortured them with the knife, shot them several times and left them, bound and gagged, for dead. Melissa Walbridge was indeed dead, from a stab wound to the heart, but miraculously Meghan O'Rourke survived; and when she dragged her brutalized body out of the woods that afternoon, she set into motion not only the largest manhunt in Vermont's history but an emotional debate on the complex moral and legal issues surrounding juvenile crime and justice. Meyer has spent a great deal of time getting the facts of this case in order, and his book offers a clearly written account of the heartbreaking events: the gruesome crime, the detective work leading to the arrests, the revelation that Savage, a minor, could not be punished for his part, the ensuing public outrage and finally the successful grass-roots campaign for dramatic reform of the juvenile-justice code. Unfortunately, Meyer's skills as a researcher surpass his analytic skills; he takes some unexpected interpretive liberties with his material and argues far beyond the facts. Consider the subtitle, for example: Meyer insists throughout his account that this case of rape and murder is egregious because it took place in Essex Junction, Vt. -- "a model town within a model state." He fairly assaults us with this point of view. The two victims are said to have grown up in an "almost idyllic land," and when Meghan O'Rourke worries out loud about the possibility of rape just before heading into the woods, her companion "confidently" replies, "No, Meghan. That wouldn't happen in Vermont." Is Meyer really so wide-eyed that he believes in this Norman Rockwell image of Vermont? Hamlin and Savage's crime was unique for its brutality, perhaps, and for the innocence of its victims, but the welfare of Vermont's citizens is not ideal nor is crime the rarity that Meyer suggests. It seems that Meyer is using the stark contrast of the lazy Green Mountain State and the hideousness of Hamlin and Savage's crimes as a rhetorical device to make the crimes more monstrous. Meyer uses other tricks to the same end. He narrates scenes he obviously didn't witness and could not have reconstructed from the public record: the crime, for example, and private conversations involving the murderers before and after the crime. Presumably the details and direct quotations come from the recollections of Hamlin and Savage, but elsewhere Meyer portrays them as habitual liars with reason to lie. To what end all this hyperbole? Meyer is arguing for wholesale reform of the juvenile-justice system. Specifically, he would like to do away with the 150-year-old legal principle of parens patriae, currently the guiding principle of juvenile justice, which holds that the state should protect its children, even from their own youthful mistakes. Meyer wants none of this permissiveness, which he holds responsible for Hamlin and Savage's violence; he gleefully reports that, under Vermont's reformed law, a 15-year-old has already been sentenced to 15 to 20 years in jail for rape. Meyer's argument rests on a transparent logical fallacy. Because one hideous crime has been committed by a sociopath months shy of legal adulthood, he argues for draconian laws nationwide. He appeals to our emotions, which cannot help being affected by this awful case, but logically the opposite argument is more sensible: Forget the sad exception; mourn the victims, but keep the humane law that, more typically, applies to a misdirected kid in need of rehabilitation. Meyer wants to get us so worked up over this atrocity that we don't notice its irrelevance to his general argument, and he shouldn't get away with it. His methods are questionable, his position morally simplistic.