Should Mark David Chapman Be Paroled?

Yesterday the press reported that Mark David Chapman’s upcoming parole hearing has been rescheduled for a date in September.  Chapman, who gunned down John Lennon in cold blood in front of the Dakota apartment building in New York City three decades ago, has served almost 30 years in prison.  He was sentenced in 1981 to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 20 years.  Since 2000 he has tried, unsuccessfully, to be paroled every two years. Yoko Ono, Lennon’s widow, opposes any parole because she believes that Chapman poses a threat to her family.

Should the fact that Chapman murdered a colossal musical and cultural figure like Lennon, as opposed to an average person, factor into the decision on whether Chapman should be paroled?  I think the answer is a resounding yes.  A thought-provoking book called 1,000 Years, 1,000 People:  Ranking the Men And Women Who Shaped A Millennium tried to come up with a formula to measure whether a person was influential.  One of the factors was the degree and extent of impact that a person had on the world.  Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press, was rated number 1 because of the extraordinary, game-changing nature of his invention.

Lennon was no Gutenberg, but he clearly had an enormous, and continuing, impact on the world. Can anyone seriously dispute that Lennon was a hugely influential musical figure?  The Beatles forever changed the direction of popular music, thanks in large part to John Lennon.  His contribution continued in his solo career, with songs like Working Class Hero and Imagine.  Anyone who still treasures songs like Twist and Shout, A Hard Day’s Night, Sexy Sadie, or Come Together, among dozens of others, knows in his gut and in his heart of the impact of John Lennon.

Who knows whether John Lennon would have made any further contribution to popular music or modern culture?  The point is that he never got the chance to do so, and the rest of us were deprived as well when he lost that opportunity — thanks to Mark David Chapman.  Yoko Ono and Lennon’s children, family and friends have suffered the most due to Chapman’s crime, of course, and Ono’s wishes concerning Chapman’s request for parole should be respected.  The authorities also should consider, however, that the ripples from Chapman’s act fanned out to touch all of us.  For inflicting such a terrible, senseless loss, I think Chapman deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison.

2 thoughts on “Should Mark David Chapman Be Paroled?

  1. “Should the fact that Chapman murdered a colossal musical and cultural figure like Lennon, as opposed to an average person, factor into the decision on whether Chapman should be paroled? I think the answer is a resounding yes.”

    So if instead of becoming fixated with Lennon, Chapman had become obsessed with, say, a model he saw in a magazine once or, I don’t know, a rising TV actress, stalked her and killed her in cold blood, paroling him would be more justified in your view? Because the women in question weren’t of the same social/cultural stature as John Lennon?

    Whatever your answer, the point of a parole hearing is to determine if a criminal is fit to re-enter/be rehabilitated into society and if they are likely to offend again. I fail to see why the size of Lennon’s fanbase should have any bearing on this (and I say this as a massive Beatles fan).


  2. Actually, I think parole hearings not only consider rehabilitation, but also consider the nature of the offense that the convict committed in the first place. Evaluation of that factor would look to the nature of the crime — was it premeditated, and so forth — but also the societal impact of the crime. In that context, I think considering the contributions of the person who was murdered is entirely fair.

    In most jurisdictions, judges and parole boards balance a number of factors in deciding what sentence is appropriate for criminal acts. For example, was the act performed in cold blood, or in the heat of passion? We also routinely consider the victim of the crime. If the victim is a police officer or a politician, sentences usually are longer — not because the lives of those victims are more intrinsically valuable than those of others, but because of the societal impact of such offenses. I’m simply arguing that the fact that Chapman’s heinous act caused the loss of Lennon’s contributions should be considered in deciding whether he should be paroled.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s