I have deeply mixed feelings about the death penalty, believing with the late Justice Blackmun that that state shouldn’t really be in the business of exacting death. That said, I have little sympathy for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. He mercilessly killed innocent people, including a child. I don’t think he was a bit remorseful.
At the same time the media was reporting on Tsarnaev’s death sentence, the Atlantic had a piece by Jeffrey E. Stern entitled “The Cruel and Unusual Execution of Clayton Lockett”. Oklahoma, where Lockett was convicted and sentenced, has a very pro-death penalty governor, Mary Fallin, who was willing to over-ride a stay issued by the state Supreme Court. Even though Oklahoma couldn’t get a reliable drug cocktail, even though the paramedic couldn’t correctly insert the IV through which the lethal drugs were administered, and even though Lockett was conscious and suffering long enough for those present to feel horrified and wonder if they should stop the procedure, the death penalty was carried out.
We want a veneer of civility when we execute someone. That’s why states have stopped hanging, gassing, or shooting convicts. We make it a quasi-medical procedure, during which the person sentenced to death is expected to feel no pain.
But if Oklahoma is representative of what happens in the death chamber, there’s no veneer.
We killed Tim McVeigh. We didn’t kill the Unabomber. We will kill Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Mercy and justice for the victims? Retribution? Accountability? Why in one case, and not the other? And it’s not civilized. Not at all.
I don’t know how I’d have voted if I’d been on that jury.