Thursday, October 03, 2013

Baby steps forward ...

In a time of such widespread angry belligerence and not-a-little fear inspired by the latest wacko mass shooting at a DC Navy yard, it has been interesting to see where voices are being raised against the death penalty for guys whose acts inspire no sympathy at all.

Would you believe that during the penalty deliberations over the fate of Major Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood mass killer, the Dallas Morning News argued he should not be sentenced to death? That's in Texas, argued about a Muslim who murdered soldiers!

It's not that they had gone soft on terrorists -- it's that they have long arrived at the opinion that the death penalty does not render justice as effectively a sentence of life without parole.

Even with the heinousness of Hasan’s crimes, this newspaper stands by its opposition to the death penalty. Tempting though it might be to argue for an exception for an Army major and psychiatrist who plotted to kill U.S. troops in cold blood, lethal injection would give this jihadist exactly what he wants. …As his minimal defense proves, he still believes he can die a hero to fellow jihadists overseas by taking the needle. Why reward him?

Although he survived his shootout, a bullet struck his spine and left him paralyzed from the chest down. He relies on others for basic hygienic and therapeutic needs. It would not be a stretch to presume he sees life on this planet as intolerable. His body has become a burden.

Why grant him relief, while family members of those he killed and those who survived will never truly get theirs? Why give the killer an easy out?

The military jury didn't agree -- Hasan has since been sentenced to death. But as the Washington Post reported, that doesn't mean he will meet a quick end:

… legal experts said it will probably be many years, if ever, before the sentence will be carried out. Hasan will be flown shortly to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where he will join five other inmates on military death row, officials said.

In military cases, there are several mandatory appeal stages and a military death sentence requires final approval by the president, as commander in chief.

Meanwhile, last week the Boston Globe urged Attorney General Eric Holder to take the death penalty off the table in the case of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The state of Massachusetts has not had a death penalty since U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the 1970s required states to rewrite their statutes for greater fairness. But Tsarnaev is being tried under federal terrorism laws, so the Attorney General gets to decide what sort of case will be made.

The Globe explained last week:

The death penalty is a deeply contentious issue, and individual viewpoints often spring from strongly held ethical and religious beliefs. To many, executions are never justified. Yet even ardent supporters of capital punishment should recognize that in this case, it would be a mistake for Holder to pursue the death penalty against Tsarnaev.

In addition to the extra cost of capital prosecutions — cases can exceed $10 million — death penalty cases drag on for years, through numerous appeals. Such lengthy proceedings would ensure that the Marathon bombing case lingers in the spotlight, compounding the sense of injury to victims. Many people would feel compelled to defend Tsarnaev on the basis of his youth, lack of past offenses, and being under the influence of his older brother — all factors that would mitigate against a death sentence. Years of proceedings, and their potential culmination in a death sentence, would also give Tsarnaev what he and his brother apparently sought: publicity and notoriety. Much better to let Tsarnaev slip into obscurity in a federal prison cell, and stay there.

In this, apparently the paper is echoing the views of Boston area residents. A Globe sponsored poll in September showed that

… 57 percent of respondents support a life sentence for Tsarnaev, compared with 33 percent who favor the death penalty. …

Preference for life without parole extended across political leanings, although Democrats overwhelmingly supported that option, 61 to 28 percent, while Republicans narrowly backed a life sentence, 49 to 46 percent. Life without parole was endorsed by men and women, across all education levels, and among white, black, and Hispanic respondents.

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