Sometimes an eye for an eye is the right answer, the only answer.
The white racist killer responsible for mass murder at a historic African-American church in Charleston, S.C., deserves the death penalty. He could get it in South Carolina, one of the 31 states that still has capital punishment in its criminal code.
If he had committed his wretched crime in, say, Illinois or Nebraska, two states that recently joined the ranks of 17 other states without capital punishment, Dylann Roof would not face the prospect of death. He would live out his life in prison. South Carolina’s law books also afford punishment of life without parole, so a death sentence isn’t a certainty.
Life behind bars is an awful way to live, but it is a life — something Roof stole from his nine innocent victims. Over the years, he would periodically be treated to news stories about his life and crime, maybe some demented woman would fall into one of those prison romances with him, and he would be a celebrity to the perverted but thankfully declining number of miscreants in our country who still hold Jim Crow views.
Assuming he never gives up his racist outlook, Roof would be free to relive in his mind, and relate to like-minded racist prisoners, what he would see as his moment of glory. What kind of justice would that be for the relatives of the murdered in Charleston and their families?
Roof is of course entitled to due process and the best defense his lawyers can muster. But no doubt about his guilt appears to exist. News reports say he has confessed, and there’s plenty of video and eyewitness evidence against him. His friends say he made no secret of his racist views and talked of doing something to spark a civil war.
Thus, there also appears to be no doubt that his crime classifies as terrorism. And, as the murders constitute a hate crime, Roof could face federal prosecution, which also carries the potential of a death sentence. I’m of the opinion that the Charleston atrocity is a crime best left to South Carolina to prosecute.
Over the years I’ve argued several times in the Chicago Sun-Times commentary pages in favor of the death penalty, seeing it as just punishment for the most heinous, evil crimes. Those columns necessarily provided gruesome details of horrific crimes that earned the perpetrators the ultimate penalty. They were murders often accompanied by the most violent rape and/or incomprehensible brutality and cruelty, and the victims were often women and children.
Mass murder by terrorism certainly qualifies as the most heinous and evil of crimes, whether the motivation comes from foreign Islamist madness or domestic fanaticism and racial hate.
Boston is about as liberal a place as you could find, yet a jury there this spring rightly agreed to a death sentence for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing that killed three people and injured more than 260.
Some of the Boston survivors and relatives of the dead appealed for mercy, saying they didn’t believe in capital punishment.
But ultimately that decision rests with the judicial system and the laws of the state. Unfortunately, in Illinois the death penalty was abolished through deeply flawed legislative maneuvering. Democrat legislative leaders pushed abolition during a lame-duck session of the General Assembly with votes from defeated or retiring lawmakers no longer accountable to the voters.
A short while later, a spurned boyfriend from Canada returned to Illinois to stalk and kill the woman who rejected him after a brief relationship, shooting her 12 times. He did so, he told police, after researching whether Illinois still had the death penalty.
Studies have found a deterrent effect from capital punishment. Those studies naturally have been disputed by death penalty opponents.
But deterrence, as valuable as it is, is not the only reason for capital punishment. Sometimes, as in the Charleston massacre, it’s a matter of simple justice.