Fla. killer of 9-year-old gets death

This article contains news with liberal commentary.

A Florida judge has affirmed a jury’s death sentence for a 41-year-old Jamaica-born man convicted of raping and killing his neighbor’s 9-year-old daughter (photo, left), ABC News reported on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020. The defendant’s guilt doesn’t seem in doubt; rather, his defense attorney argued an abusive childhood as a mitigating circumstance. (Read story here.)

The death penalty is controversial, which long ago turned it into a classroom exercise. Students were assigned to research the topic and come up with pro and con arguments. A standard point of contention was whether it deterred crime. Studies generally showed it didn’t, consistent with the apocryphal stories of pickpockets working crowds attending public hangings of thieves in Merry Old England, but to me the question of deterrence is irrelevant. On this topic, I disagree with Clint Eastwood’s character’s line in “The Unforgiven”:

In short, I think deserve’s got everything to do with it. Timothy McVeigh deserved to be killed. So did Ted Bundy. I’m not bothered by the fact some of those who deserve to be executed aren’t (e.g., the Green River killer) while others are; when you commit the crime, “you lays down your money and takes your chances.” In any case, life behind bars without parole is in many ways a tougher punishment to take, as demonstrated by the fact that some killers demand to be executed.

There is one huge problem with the death penalty: Hundreds of death row inmates have been exonerated by DNA, many of them black, which exposes serious flaws in the criminal justice system going beyond racism (some innocent white people are sentenced to death, too). That ought to give us great pause about carrying out irreversible punishments. A lesser problem is that some executions have been botched; this bothers some people, including me, because a civilized society doesn’t torture people, not even those who tortured their victims, based on the notion we should strive to be better than they are. I acknowledge that some of us aren’t, usually the most sanctimonious among us.

To date there isn’t an unambiguously established case of an innocent person being executed in the U.S. in recent decades, although the Cameron Todd Willingham case, and how it was handled by Texas authorities (including a post-execution cover-up), comes disturbingly close (details here). But even killing the innocent wouldn’t stop some death penalty zealots, who seem willing to accept friendly-fire casualties in the name of vengeance, as long as they’re not them.

On the subject of vengeance, people who pretend to be civilized also pretend to consider it gauche to kill people for revenge, so the politically correct way of describing raw bloodthirsty vengeance is “justice” or similarly euphemistic rhetoric; but let’s not kid ourselves, the criminal justice system has two fundamental purposes, and getting dangerous criminals off the streets is only one of them. Human emotion is what it is, no matter what you call it.

For what it’s worth, which is zip because my personal opinions count for nothing in the grand scheme of things, I think the death penalty should be used sparingly if at all, but I’d keep it on the books for those people who work exceptionally hard at deserving it and whose guilt isn’t in the slightest doubt, with exemptions for those who under our existing legal standards are deemed inculpable by reason of insanity, who get life in the rubber room instead.

Arguing mitigating circumstances, such as an abusive childhood, is always something of a Hail Mary pass. Murderers who don’t satisfy the insanity test but assert mitigating circumstance knew right from wrong, but did it anyway because s/he was pissed off at the world and took it out on innocent victim(s). In my book, that excuses nothing. This way of thinking would certainly keep me off death penalty juries, which is fine with me, because I don’t want to be on one anyway. My state doesn’t even have the death penalty.

As for botched executions, my philosophy is that if you can’t do something right, then don’t do it at all; but if the guy strapped to the gurney has complaints,

As far as I’m concerned, nobody made him do what got him there, so he volunteered for it. This, of course, assumes he’s guilty beyond any doubt, not just a reasonable doubt. To me, the latter is too low a threshold for blood vengeance. Even suspected Nazis got the benefit of a requirement for certainty from, of all people, the Israelis. If they can be that careful, so can we.

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