The subject is coming up in this region because of the Boston Marathon bombing trial of Chechen (perhaps more properly Dagestani) Dzhokhar Tsaernaev. Massachusetts is as blue as a state gets, but it pays to remember that all states are purple, after all. There are many never-no-never anti-death-penalty citizens here, but even some of those are squishy at present. The vehemence of those who want revenge, who want him to suffer and are debating only because they think life imprisonment would make him even more miserable always surprises me. I come at this from a different direction.
Ex-mayor of Boston Ray Flynn has been sort of rambling, but notes that he has been anti-death-penalty because of the danger of getting it wrong and executing an innocent man. He acknowledges that's not the case here. I think Flynn's objection is the most sensible, and the only one which carries much weight with me.
I worked 20-30 years ago with dangerous sexual offenders, and still get one on my caseload from time-to-time. Because of this, I went to conferences and trainings in that specialty. The director of prison programs in RI and CT, Peter Loss, (no, I am not kidding) hammered home an idea that has stuck with me in all subsequent discussions of people's dangerousness: Once guilt is established, the safety of the community is the goal which trumps all others. Whether the inmate is miserable or happy becomes so entirely secondary that it barely factors into our decisions. If we focus on the inmate, we lose focus on the community. If we take revenge because of our feelings today, we might relent and fell sorry for a contrite-sounding inmate 20 years later. And we might be wrong, allowing him to go to his father's funeral or some such, and expose the community to danger unnecessarily.
Because these things have happened many times.
The community's need is met by life imprisonment, but it is met more surely by execution. For those criminals who seek notoriety, the grand spectacle of an execution does feed their narcissism somewhat. No matter. Executed criminals are more quickly forgotten. We think no one could ever forget this crime which consumes us now, but it will fade. The details will be fuzzy soon enough. If he lives, someone from the Globe will do an update story on him every few years, keeping his name alive. That would do as much to encourage those who share his goals as any supposed martyrdom would.
The theory that government violence gives a legitimacy to violence is interesting, but there is nothing to suggest it's true. I don't see that it demonstrably dulls us to pain, death, or evil. That appeals of a death penalty will be long and expensive is true, but not very relevant to me. We will pay money to support him, or pay money to keep ourselves true to our own standards by enabling appeals. There is no way out there. I don't believe length of years gives him more years to repent. Anecdote suggests that coming up against the hard edge of execution does that better.
I prefer that we execute him. But if not, I will think of it no more. The safety of the community is our focus.