The notorious DC sniper will get a needle in his arm at midnight tonight, for the murder of Dean Harold Meyers in 2002 (and six others).
My feelings on the death penalty are complex. And by complex, I mean confused and poorly defined. I’m sure that there are parameters; I’m just not sure where they are. I have principles, but if you don’t like them, well, I have others.
As I’ve indicated before, I think that the death penalty against Saddam Hussein was a Decidedly Good Thing in some situations, even a cause for celebration, though one tempered by somber reflection. I’d say the same if we ever manage to dig up Osama Bin Ladin before his kidneys finally bury him. But those, perhaps, are extraordinary circumstances.
Maybe it’s because I was in law school when it went down and I was able to apply my fledging legal analysis to the 24-7 coverage of the case, or maybe it was the first story like this to hit the news after I became a certified news junkie, but the opposite extreme of the analysis for me has always been Scott Peterson. You remember him, right? Pregnant wife went missing right before Christmas, Nancy Grace and Greta Van Susteren poured on the sympathy? Then his bit on the side showed up, and his wife and kid washed up, and he was slapped with a double-homicide.
Now, it’s not that I don’t think that Peterson is not guilty; I never really saw anything to make me think the jury got it wrong. And it’s certainly not that I feel some strange sympathy for the man who committed such a horrible act.
One of the reasons, I think, that this case resonates with me is that I happened to be driving at the time that the verdict went down, listening to a radio show that cut live to the sentencing. “Death.” Unanimous. Twelve people, each agreeing,”yes,” in turn. I amazed even myself at the breath I drew as I acknowledged the gravity of this event, happening right then and there. Death. Again, it’s not that I feel sympathy, but I find myself asking “who does this help?”
Saddam was different; he didn’t kill a single person or two; he terrorized a nation. Merely bringing him out of power was not enough; the people needed to see that he was gone, that he was over and there was no possibility that he could return. But for Peterson? Well, I’m sure that there’s some closure for the families, but many argue that this is more hurtful than helpful. How much closure can be had through re-living the crime over numerous appeals and seeing the final event years after the loss? As far as deterrence goes, the jury is certainly still out.
So, where does John Allen Muhammad fall on this scale? I’m still trying to figure it out. Fox describes a three week killing spree “that left 10 dead and spread such fear people were afraid to go shopping, cut grass or pump gas.”
Now, I was hardly young when it happened; I remember it well. But, for some reason, it doesn’t feel like it was a really big deal, which, looking back, seems bizarre. But, I had just completed the first year of my marriage at the time, and I was finishing up my undergrad degree; I hadn’t fully developed my current news fixation (although it doubtlessly started in the mixed up election of 2000), so I guess I just wasn’t paying much attention. I’d hear the news stories, but they didn’t resonate. Another murder near D.C. It happens. But, looking back, it appears that the people in that city feared for their very lives to do normal things, which sounds to me like terrorism in action. Even so, that fear is gone now; I don’t think that the good citizens of the beltway are fearful for these criminals’ return. So, I’m torn. Is his death a good thing, or is it a simple waste of resources?