I generally oppose the death penalty, for all the reasons we know: the penalty is applied disproportionately to minorities and the poor, who can’t afford decent legal representation. The penalty is irrevocable, and we know that false convictions are not rare. The penalty is barbaric, turning the state into an instrument of death. I’ve long felt that if I wouldn’t personally serve as part of a “strap down” team readying a prisoner for death, I shouldn’t expect others to serve in that role.
Dylan Roof challenges all of that. I think we’d like to say that anyone who holds his warped, racist views and acts on them to take the lives of nine innocent people has to be crazy. But he insists he isn’t crazy, and I take him at his word. We like convicted murderers to show remorse; Roof has none. We like to believe that even the most hardened criminal can turn his or her life around, and sometimes that happens. Governor Cuomo just commuted the sentence of Judith Clark, who drove the car in a Brinks robbery in 1981 in which a guard and two police officers were killed. Clark was a raving revolutionary when convicted. She has, by all accounts of people who’ve known her in prison, achieved that rare state of personal redemption. Maybe it could happen for Dylan Roof too, over time, and maybe that would be worth something for humanity.
The state expends a lot of money and time leading up to an execution; the appeals process is lengthy. The state also spends a lot keeping a prisoner incarcerated for life, especially someone so young as Dylan Roof. I don’t believe his execution would have a deterrent effect; people who hold warped, racists views will continue to hold them, and some will act on them. The families of the people he murdered have mostly forgiven him, although I believe their forbearance is being tested by his in-your-face lack of contrition. So has Mother Emmanuel Church forgiven him, although Roof thrust a dagger into the heart of that congregation, and healing will take a long time.
What would I do, were I a juror in this case? I’d really struggle. I’d really be deeply affronted by his attitude, and pained by the destruction he’s caused in so many decent lives. At the same time, I have a visceral repugnance at using the death penalty as a form of retribution. In the end, I’m not sure how I’d vote.