I refuse to write his name.
He doesn’t deserve to be mentioned. He doesn’t deserve to be known. He doesn’t deserve to be remembered in any way. Not in any way whatsoever. Not in any way, shape, or form. We don’t care who he is, or what he thinks. Even writing the word “he” in place of his name troubles me deeply.
Accordingly, throughout the remainder of this essay, I shall refer to him only as the “Boston Marathon Bomber.”
As this is written, the Boston Marathon Bomber hasn’t yet been tried, nor convicted. Since our society presumes innocence until guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt, for the time being he remains – the accused.
That said, let’s hypothetically presume that the 19-year-old accused man who’s now in custody will be found guilty. Then, we must ask ourselves the following: Should the Boston Marathon Bomber get the death penalty?
If ever there was justification for capital punishment, this is it. Based on moral, ethical, legal, or any standards of jurisprudence whatsoever, his crimes (along with his accomplice) demand the harshest possible sentence. Given every option available within our criminal justice system, that means the death penalty.
I won’t spend a lot of time arguing the case for taking the life of the Boston Marathon Bomber, because it’s so obvious. Assuming he’s found guilty, the vast majority of Americans would undoubtedly favor a death sentence. Feelings are so strong perhaps, that a majority might even favor making the guilty man’s life as unbearable as possible, including the use of torture. At the very least, making him suffer for his crimes in some proportion to the misery he caused to others — all innocents – does seem justified. Dozing off to sleep by lethal injection and never waking up seems both unsettling and unsatisfying. Dying that way seems almost too easy.
Then again, we must not reduce ourselves to acts of barbarism. As good as we might feel afterward, and as satisfying as “getting justice” may seem, those are not the rules we play, nor the virtues we ascribe to.
My objection to torture isn’t based on any higher sense of morality. Frankly, I’d be perfectly comfortable torturing those who have commited horrendous acts against humanity.
Serial killers? Mass murderers? Those who harm children? Even those who torture animals for pleasure? Strap them onto a table and give me a hammer and a pair of forseps. I’ll have a blast. And I won’t lose a second of sleep over it.
But that why I’m not in charge of making laws. That’s why I’m not in a position of legal authority. And I shouldn’t be.
I’m entitled to my emotions and my personal biases, just as we all are. But laws aren’t intended to be based on emotion. We must demand a more principled degree of judgment from those we trust to judge and sentence others. They must not be like the rest of us. They must not succcumb to the wild-eyed wishes of a mob mentality. The legal system and those who work within it, including juries, must act with prudence.
As we shall see, determining what prudence means isn’t easy.
I’m conflicted on the death penalty. As stated previously, I have no objection to “eye for an eye” justice.
However, the death penalty’s application within the United States, and more precisely who it’s given to in greater numbers, goes way beyond disturbing.
First, our courts sometimes get ”the facts” of the case wrong. They get it wrong a lot. Not as a percentage of overall cases, mind you. But our legal system has made enough egregious errors over the years to seriously call into question whether or not those found guilty actually commited the crimes for which they were charged. Evidence on this point is overwhelming. There are innumerable cases of people throughout the U.S. who were found guilty, later proven not-guilty by additional evidence. Most of these cases cost someone totally innocent many years (sometimes decades) of their lives, which were spent wasting away in prison.
That’s disturbing enough. But going so far as to kill an innocent person, as apparently has happened in some cases, demands that we thoroughly reexamine the legal system. These errors call into serious question whether or not we can always rely on a guilty verdict. Even with a lengthy appeals process by design which is intended to firewall errors, we’ve still made mistakes. Innocent people been put to death at the hands of the state.
Then, there’s the disproportional application of the death penalty against the poor/the uneducated and people of color. If you can’t afford good legal respresentation, or if you’re black, the odds of getting the death penalty for a serious crime skyrockets. One could even argue that there’s a gender bias. Capital punishment discriminates against men, since the vast majority of those sitting on death row are males. Of course, far more men commit violent crimes. But courts do seem reluctant to put women to death. opting instead for life sentences without the possibility of parole.
The point is — based on what we’ve seen historically and in the present fay, the death penalty is strongly biased and sometimes even wrong.
Now, let’s return to the Boston Marathon Bomber.
Let’s try and weigh all the factors to determine if he should receive the death penalty.
One way to look at this case is to examine historical precedent. The closest thing to this crime is probably the Oklahoma City bombing, which happened nearly 20 years ago. The person found guilty of that terrible act was eventually put to death.
What did that execution manage to accomplish, if anything?
Well, perhaps most meaningful, the deth penalty gave a sense of closure to (many of) the survivors, including relatives who lost their loved ones in the bombing. One doubts the person executed continues to inflict the minds like some kind of bad rash that never goes away. Those who still have unanswerable questions about why such a tragedy happened were at least given some peace. With the guilty man now gone from the earth, there’s no one for the media to interview later (think Charles Manson), no one to wonder about, no one to remind us all of that supremely evil deed. He’s essentially been erased from the page of life, no longer remembered by the living.
That argument alone might be the single most compelling point in favor of executing the Boston Marathon Bomber. There are other reasons, too — including a consensus of satisfaction that justice will have been served. Indeed, we must not forget that.
But I do wonder.
Can anything be gained — anything at all — by allowing the Boston Marathon Bomber to live (in what would amount to a lifetime of confinement)?
Can we learn anything from this person about human psychology or criminal behavior?
Is there any possibility that he might eventually be rehabilitated? By this, I mean might he come to realize how terrible his crimes were, and then vow to serve in some capacity as a deterent for other potential terrorists who might do such things in the future?
These are serious questions worth asking for which there are no easy answers.
What do you think? Does anyone believe the Boston Marathon Bomber should be allowed to live, and if so — why?