Use notorious in a sentence

Yesterday (19 April 2010), Carl Williams, the criminal made famous by a series of books and the Australian Channel 9 drama, Underbelly, died in prison. He had been beaten to death with part of an exercise bike inside Barwon Prison’s maximum security unit. Williams had been sentenced in 2007 to a minimum of 35 years in gaol for a series of gangland murders.

His lawyer, Rob Stary, told ABC News that:

… the two prisoners suspected of being involved in Williams’ murder are notorious criminals.

State Corrections Minister, Bob Cameron, in a separate report, said:

We are very, very concerned that such a notorious criminal has been murdered. That’s why there are all of those investigations and we want to get to the bottom of it.

The use of the adjective, notorious, in these situations to describe these most dangerous of criminals may not be quite appropriate.

Notorious, has been around for quite a while and means … being famous for some bad quality or deed. It originally came from the medieval Latin in about the 16th century and meant well-known or commonly known. It took on a negative connotation in the 18th century when it had become more ofen used in a similar sense to infamous: having an extremely bad reputation.

The lawyer is using the wrong adjective in describing the two inmates as notorious criminals. Since they are locked in a maximum security unit of a maximum security gaol it is rather obvious they are well known for their bad deeds or actions otherwise they would not be there. If he is describing them as the worst sort of criminal he should use alternative adjectives. Dangerous, vicious, loathsome, despicable or even heinous would be more appropriate. But notorious criminal has a strong hint of tautology about it.

The Minister, being concerned that such a well-known criminal has been murdered, is inadvertently suggesting that it is more acceptable for lesser-known criminals to be murdered. He perhaps should rethink his sentence to say “we are very, very concerned that any criminal has been murdered while in the care of the state.