Another Reason To Oppose The Death Penalty

In Colorado, James Holmes has been convicted of multiple counts of capital murder.  He’s the bug-eyed killer who burst into a crowded movie theater in 2012, threw tear gas, then started shooting, killing 12 people and wounding 70.  The carnage he caused has been recounted, with lasting horror, by some of the survivors at his trial.

But now we are hearing emotional testimony from James Holmes’ mother.  She says she thought she had a “good kid” who was self-sufficient and responsible, although she was saddened and guilty that he was “losing his joy” as he grew into adulthood.  She says she never knew that her son was so mentally ill that he was capable of random mass murder.  And other family members, teachers, and friends have testified about Holmes being a happy boy, a “Renaissance child,” and a nerdy teenager.

It’s all part of the “mitigation phase” of the trial, where the jury will decide whether Holmes should receive the death penalty for his appalling crimes.  His lawyers want the jury to feel sorry for him and his family and to conclude that the shootings didn’t occur because Holmes was intrinsically evil, but because he was mentally “sick.”  And so the jury has been listening to witness after witness testify about Holmes in a way designed to encourage jurors to show mercy — even though he didn’t show mercy to those innocents he gunned down.

I’m opposed to the death penalty on principle, so I don’t need to be convinced that Holmes should receive life in prison.  However, I think this phase of the Holmes trial aptly illustrates another reason why the death penalty should be abolished.  It is simply unfair to put the families of the victims through a process where they have to hear that the person who ruthlessly killed their loved ones was once an outgoing “Renaissance child” or an uncoordinated teenage nerd, and it is unseemly to call his Mom and Dad to the stand to shed a few tears to try to save their little boy’s skin.

A process that is designed to curry sympathy for the killer, by recalling his boyhood and moments where he laughed or cried or kicked a soccer ball, is senseless and offensive because whatever his meager childhood accomplishments may have been shrivel to nothingness against the magnitude of his adult crimes.  Don’t try to make me feel sorry for James Holmes.  I feel sorry for the victims and their families for the loss that Holmes inflicted.  Lock him away, and be done with it.

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4 thoughts on “Another Reason To Oppose The Death Penalty

  1. Bob, in California and I expect many other states, the penalty phase of a capital trial also includes lots of testimony from the victim’s loved ones. Prosecutors, victims’ rights groups and the family members themselves say this is an important process that gives them the chance, if they choose, to face the person convicted of killing their loved one. Not arguing with what you say, but the other side does see benefit in this part of the trial.

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    • That’s a fair point, Mr. Smith. Of course, I think the victims and their families could still face the killer — at least, in the sense of being in the same courtroom — during the initial phase of the trial, as guilt or innocence is being determined, and surviving victims presumably could have a chance to testify about what they saw and heard in that part of the trial as well.

      In this situation, my sympathies are all with the victims and their families, and I just recoil at anything that suggests that we should view a mass murderer as a sympathetic figure.

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