Yesterday in a packed Colorado courtroom, family and friends of victims—as well as surviving victims—of the Aurora theater shooting listened and then applauded as prosecutors announced that they would be seeking the death penalty against the alleged perpetrator of that horrific crime, 25-year-old James Holmes. A fully-bearded Holmes sat and reacted with almost contemptuous casualness as the decision was read. Holmes’ rugged appearance in court was a long way from the orange and red dyed Joker-inspired-hair he sported the night he pushed into the nearly-packed movie theater in Aurora last July. Donned in a get-up reminiscent of the fictional Batman villain, he barged into a midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises” and began opening fire on the crowd watching the movie with an assortment of weapons, killing 12 and wounding at least 58 people.
In past court appearances, Holmes has appeared to be what can only be described as “detached” in his concern for both the proceedings and his apparent actions.
In an action that contradicted Holmes’ cavalier attitude toward his actions, his lawyers last week indicated that Holmes was willing to “plead guilty and spend the rest of his life in prison in order to avoid death row.” His offer was summarily rejected by prosecutors.
In a perfect (in not imaginative) world, executing Holmes would bring both closure to the families of his victims, as their departed loved-ones back from The Great Beyond. But as it stands, putting perpetrators like Holmes to death does nothing but perpetuate a cycle of violence as well as demonstrate how inconsistent we can be by way of our collective behaviors. We have no problem killing to demonstrate that killing is wrong, but we cannot spank/hit our unruly (and oftentimes deserving) children to demonstrate to them that hitting/disruptive behavior is wrong. Are we “civilized” or aren't we? A couple of years ago, I wrote posted a piece calling for a different way of punishing repeat violent offenders. The punishment was based on the premise of the old John Carpenter 1981 sci-fi flick (one of my personal guilty pleasures), “Escape From New York” (See: "A Hollywood Approach to Crime And Punishment"). The thesis of that particular piece was that the death penalty was neither a true deterrent to such offenses, nor has it even invoked a sense of fear or even concern in the minds of those charged with committing such heinous crimes—especially the way it is administered inconsistently and disproportionately. And for those who invoke the “justification” for capital punishment that “taxpayers shouldn't have pay to support such criminals,” these individuals ignore the fact that it actually costs taxpayers more money to execute those charged with capital crimes.
My suggestion was that a true level of punishment for unrepentant, repeat, and incorrigible criminals should illicit fear. In that previous posting, I suggested that criminals be allowed to live in a society of their rules, where only the strongest survive, and where there is no rule of law and enforcement for the laws they hold such concept for. Due process would still apply, but such criminals would truly get to see and live the consequences of their own thinking and actions.
My point is that punishments should hurt, and they should instill fear of consequences as well as that of punishment itself. A true system of punishment would create an environment of such apprehension of consequences that those like James Holmes who knowingly commit crimes of such magnitude against others would rather die—or simply not engage in such behavior—than experience the consequences. Death is seen as a punishment by some, but wishing for death would be a better lesson.
See also: "Time To Rethink The Death Penalty"