Friday, April 17, 2015

To End the Anguish, Drop the Death Penalty

The Richard's were directly affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. Today in The Boston Globe they write To end the anguish, drop the death penalty.

But now that the tireless and committed prosecution team has ensured that justice will be served, we urge the Department of Justice to bring the case to a close. We are in favor of and would support the Department of Justice in taking the death penalty off the table in exchange for the defendant spending the rest of his life in prison without any possibility of release and waiving all of his rights to appeal.

We hope our two remaining children do not have to grow up with the lingering, painful reminder of what the defendant took from them, which years of appeals would undoubtedly bring.

As an otherwise unabashed liberal, I'm a little squishy on the death penalty. I don't completely oppose it. I know that is it misused and that's tragic and needs to be corrected. Maybe it can't be and needs to be abolished, that might be reality. But I think there are cases and maybe it's only a handful, where guilt is not merely beyond a reasonable doubt but a certainty. Maybe it should only apply for those caught in the act or with a preponderance of physical and video evidence. I believe though I'm not certain that Oswald killed Kennedy. I am certain that John Hinkley attempted to kill Reagan.

I'm mostly certain that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev carried out the Boston Marathon bombings. I only say mostly because I haven't followed the trial, but as far as I know the evidence is overwhelming and the defense admitted it. While I don't now feel competent to say he did it with certainty, I believe the jury can make this decision (and has).

And now the hard part. Should the government have the power to take a life when it isn't necessary? We do empower the police to kill for our general protection. I have no problem with the fact that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed by the state. I obviously have issues with the many recent police killings that don't seem be necessary (Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott), but this isn't about that. Is killing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev better for society than imprisoning him for what could be 50 or more years?

The Richards make a fine point but it's mostly about the legal process, they want him to waive his right to appeals. The death penalty involves a very long process with possible appeals. The arguments against it point out that the way we currently do it is inefficient and possibly cruel. It's more expensive than life in prison, the drugs we use can fail, it drags out the process and it doesn't act as a deterrent. While that's all true and makes a compelling case against it, it doesn't have to be that way.

So you get to the moral question. Does killing Tsarnaev, after a fair trial, make us evil? Maybe it is just vengeance and maybe we could be better, but it doesn't feel that way to me. If we empower police to kill to protect us, having to make split-second decisions that could be wrong, is it wrong to have that power when careful consideration can be applied? Or is the power only necessary when careful consideration can't be applied, that is when there's no other option?

As I said, I'm squishy on it. I'm absolutely opposed to it in cases where it could be misapplied. I suspect that's most in use today. But I believe there are cases where it could be applied and at least in this case, I wouldn't lose any sleep over it. I do feel for the victims and agree with the Richards that they should have an opportunity to get closure and not have their pain dredged up for years or decades to come. A speedy execution would do that too.

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