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Columns

May 25, 2013

I can't make up my mind on the death penalty

If there’s a silver lining from three of the most horrific crimes in recent memory, it’s that we have the perpetrators in custody.

Ariel Castro, the man accused of kidnapping and brutalizing a trio of young women for the past decade in Cleveland, now amuses himself pacing and sweeping the floor of his cell while awaiting trial.

Boston bombing suspect Dzhokar Tsarnaev also now lives in a prison, recovering from gunshot wounds suffered at the hands of his pursuers.

And convicted pedophile David Renz of Syracuse is locked up after allegedly slicing his monitoring bracelet to kidnap a mother and her 10-year-old daughter on their way home from gymnastics class, then fatally stab the former and rape the latter.

One of the most popular arguments I’ve heard against capital punishment comes only from laymen, and never from elected officials: that executions are too painless for creeps like Renz, who deserve instead to sit in a cell with “Bubba” for the rest of their lives.

That’s the sort of vigilante justice Renz felt in March, according to the Syracuse Post-Standard, after he apparently was put in a holding center with other prisoners intentionally by prison guards. Renz showed up in for a court appearance the next day with a swollen face and broken nose.

I’ve always held conflicting opinions about the death penalty, but I’ve never believed that it’s excessively cruel. Renz’s jailhouse beating gave similar contradictory thoughts.

If anyone deserves the ultimate punishment, it’s those who commit the sort of monstrous crimes of which Castro and Renz are accused. But although I have zero sympathy for Renz, vigilante justice among inmates has no place in the United States, given our Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

That said, if Castro and Renz are convicted but somehow manage to avoid execution, it would be hard for me to come away from their cases feeling that justice was served. For their victims, sentencing the perpetrators to death isn’t an act of vengeance so much as a matter of balancing the scales of justice.

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