Ultimate Punishment Never Easy

Capital punishment: ultimate crime, ultimate criminal, ultimate penalty. Next case. Would that it were that simple.

“Eye for an eye”: Old Testament. “Thou shall not kill:” New Testament. Plea bargains, sentences overturned on appeal, political implications: Newer Testament.

If Howell Emanuel Donaldson III is found guilty in the Seminole Heights serial murders, Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren says he will seek the death penalty. “A prosecutor’s pursuit of justice should be tempered by mercy,” he acknowledged, “but some crimes are so unconscionable, so hard to fathom, that we must leave mercy to a higher power and instead focus on achieving justice for the victims and their families.”

There is also this. We know that death sentences have no deterrent impact on murder rates. And we also know that the long-term cost of multiple, inevitable legal appeals will be outrageous–as opposed to a sentence of life without parole. Couldn’t society benefit more with a better way to allocate these funds?

Mark Elliott, the executive director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, thinks so. “These funds can be better used to help families who are victims of violent crime,” says Elliott, “and make our community safer by solving more crimes and preventing violent crimes from happening in the first place.”

Familial feelings, including closure, is an understandable–and emotional–variable. Even ironic. Suppose the victims were homeless, with no one to underscore their impact in life and death? No one to be societal objects of empathy and sympathy? No one to make the personal case for retribution?

Perhaps we should just let the trial play out and see if the suspect’s parents add any kind of fathomable context.

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