Crime and Punishment

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Let's talk capital punishment.

John Allen Muhammad (perhaps better known as the "D.C. Sniper" or "Beltway Sniper") is set to be executed in Virginia tonight. Although I was still in college and was living approximately 400 miles from Washington, D.C., I was gripped by the story of these random shootings, and remember following the coverage closely. I vividly recall seeing "breaking news" reports of shootings outside a Home Depot, a shopping center, a Ponderosa, a school, and gas stations. In those weeks, people were actually scared to get out of their cars to pump gas. Unbelievable.

By the time Muhammad and his accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, were arrested, they had killed 10 people, and injured three others.

And tonight, Muhammad will pay the price for his crimes--like his victims, he too will die.

So here I sit, debating the issue of capital punishment in my mind. It's an issue for which I don't have strong feelings either way. Or I guess it's more accurate to say that I identify with both sides.

I understand the need for justice. In this case, Muhammad took 10 lives, so isn't it fair that his life also be taken from him? Perhaps.

I'd like to think that life in prison is a much harsher punishment, but I suppose it depends on the circumstances. I don't know much about prison life for people convicted of murder, but I know that I've heard things about how prison "isn't that bad," and "some prisoners have it better than we do." Yada yada yada. I honestly don't know how much of that is true.

The other thing is that I'm not sure life in prison is the punishment I hope it would be for people who are incapable of feeling remorse. Let's take Scott Peterson for example. I would love to think that sitting in his jail cell for the rest of his life--in a prison that overlooks the very bay into which he dumped his pregnant wife's body--would be the ultimate torture. I would like to believe that he thinks of the beautiful wife and baby boy that he killed, and that having to live with that is punishment enough. But he still denies the crime. He doesn't seem sad. He, too, will be put to death for his crimes.

In a situation where the murderer is a sociopath, or has other mental issues that prevent him/her from feeling remorse or regret, compassion or sympathy... is the death penalty a better answer then? Is taking away "freedom" a harsh enough punishment? What about those who are sentenced to life in prison, but then get paroled?

For those who believe in Heaven and Hell, the ultimate punishment comes after death. Can I argue with those who want that fate to come more quickly for the murderer? Not really.

Frankly, I sort of wish that these decisions were left up to the victims' families. Not the convictions, obviously... but the choice between life in prison and death. The families are the ones who will continue to suffer for the rest of their lives because of what was taken from them. So doesn't it make sense for them to decide the fate of the person who robbed them of a future with their loved ones? It won't bring their loved ones back, but I think that if one of these options will help them to sleep better at night, they should get to choose.

I'm sure that many of these family members would feel much like I do--that death is the "easy" way out, and that letting the murderer rot in prison for the rest of his/her life is preferable. But given that for me, this is a (thankfully) hypothetical scenario, it's hard to say how I would feel if I were actually in those shoes. Trying to imagine it, I can also see the other side. I could see how I would be so filled with rage that I would want that person to pay, to "suffer" in the same way that my loved one suffered. An eye for an eye.

I see both sides.

And I don't know if there is a right or wrong answer.

11 comments:

Becky November 10, 2009 at 3:41 PM  

I don't agree with capital punishment. I don't really see how it could be justice. I was a believer of "an eye for an eye" before I actually studied up on it. Now...no way. There are way worse punishments that could be done while living.

Michelle November 10, 2009 at 3:51 PM  

I was thinking about this same thing today while listening about the upcoming execution on the radio.

I can see where you are coming from and how a person would be torn to take one side over another. I lean more towards agreeing with the death penalty because I wonder how tough life is in prison. In my eyes, that criminal/murderer is still breathing air which is something that those innoncent victims don't have the chance to do anymore.

I also wonder how prisoners just adapt to their situations and prison becomes home to them. I watch documentaries about it and they just go about their daily lives completely adjusted to their sentence. It almost seems that they have forgotten about the reasons why they are there because it is just so much a part of their everyday life.

Vanessa November 10, 2009 at 5:04 PM  

I don't know the answer - I too have mixed views, but I will throw something else out there. I think either option is far more important as a deterrent than as punishment per se. Because no punishment will take away the pain and senselessness that murder creates. Whether the perpetrator dies or spends life in prison, those murdered are gone forever. So to my mind the more useful outcome in either case is that perhaps someone out there will be deterred from doing the same thing. In which case, the imminent question is this: is life in prison or death the bigger deterrent? The bigger deterrent is the one that should be used. For me it would be life in prison, but I'd like to know what the general feeling would be.

Kylee Wall November 10, 2009 at 6:23 PM  

I was thinking about this today and like you, I struggle with both sides. However, I think ultimately I lean toward life in prison. I've seen what prison does to people after just 5, 10, or 15 years. Sometimes prison might not be so bad in terms of living conditions, but for many people, just knowing that they are stuck in there for the rest of their living moments will take a toll on them psychologically. People that get out after 15 year

Heather November 10, 2009 at 8:03 PM  

Michelle--That's pretty much what I'm getting at on the one side of the argument. Prison isn't an ideal way of life, but is it really all that bad? I'm not sure it's bad enough. But is ANYTHING enough to make up for the loss that the person caused?

Vanessa--Touche! Very good point.

Jen November 10, 2009 at 8:39 PM  

I was a senior in high school when the sniper struck Virginia/DC, and everyone was so afraid. We were afraid to pump gas, afraid to run errands, afraid to go out to eat, afraid to exercise outside.

They said the snipers were in a white van, and every time I saw one on my block, my heart raced. It also pushed our homecoming (game and dance) back two months and all other activities were canceled. It was beyond horrible.

I always try to see both sides, but in this case, I'm glad for capital punishment. Not only did he kill 10 and injure 3, but he made thousands and thousands of people (millions maybe?) live in fear for months.

I still think about it sometimes and will never be able to forget what it felt like to live in fear like that.....

Thanks for posting this Heather.

Erin November 10, 2009 at 10:06 PM  

Watch Dead Man Walking. Amazing film. It will certainly make you think even more.

kylee November 10, 2009 at 10:53 PM  

Aw the rest of my comment got eaten. It probably would have blown your mind (not really).

A Voice of Sanity November 12, 2009 at 1:24 AM  

"Let's take Scott Peterson for example. ... beautiful wife and baby boy that he killed ... But he still denies the crime."

Quite reasonably since he is innocent of it. The state spent $11 million to 'get' him - and never found any evidence of guilt. His conviction was obtained by public hysteria and not by any evidence of guilt.

Tricia November 13, 2009 at 8:09 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hannah February 15, 2010 at 10:07 PM  

I am pretty unequivocal about my thoughts on capital punishment - I don't believe in it.

There are too much in the way of margin for error for capital punishment to be justifiable. Additionally, people can be found guilty on the basis of pressure rather than irrefutable evidence as well.

Capital punishment obviously does not work as a deterrent - murders still happen, women and children are still raped - and it does not bring the individuals back or change their pain.

All the reasons aside - the key reason I disagree with capital punishment is that I feel it corrupts society. It gives the state the right to kill and that is problematic to me.

Then again, I don't have an issue with war, as such (depending on the conflict) but I view capital punishment as a different kind of killing.

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