Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What it means to kill the killer

Jodi Sanderholm's murder is just another atrocity in a nation full of them. If you don't live in south-central Kansas, you've probably never heard of it.
The big news here in Wichita today is that Justin Thurber has been sentenced to die for killing her in January 2007. As might be expected, the sentence has prompted a lot of hand-wringing from death penalty foes, who are always quick to point out the obvious: killing the perpetrator won't bring back the victim.

OK, I think we all understand that, just as we understand that the possibility of a death sentence does not necessarily deter those predisposed to commit unspeakable acts. One look at the simian Thurber, and a cursory review of his short, useless life, and you realize that this is not a man given to reflection on cause and effect. Look at the evidence presented during the trial, and it's hard not to conclude that if ever a man deserved to die, it's him. Jodi Sanderholm deserved to live, too, but we can't give her that. So it's time for Justin to roll up his sleeve.

Is that justice? Maybe it's as close as we can come. But the death penalty is not really about restoring the cosmic balance, just as it is not about deterring the next mindless sociopath who sees an opportunity and takes it. Capital punishment is a societal expression of outrage over the most heinous of acts, a public statement that the continued existence of the perpetrator is an affront to any notion of civilization. Fuzzy notions of closure and deterrence are beside the point.

I won't be carrying a bleeding-heart sign when Justin Thurber rides the needle, just as I won't be posting gleeful remarks beneath the stories marking the event. State-sanctioned killing is not pleasant and is nothing to celebrate. There are legitimate reasons to oppose it -- the possibility of a mistake, the idea that we must pay individuals to become executioners, the fact that capital cases require far more time and money to prosecute. But enough of the facile argument that killing the killer won't bring back the victim. We get that, already. And it does not pertain.


Jessie K said...

So well written, DK. How's the agent-hunting going, btw?

Linda J said...

I am not a big fan of the death penalty, but I'm with you. If anyone deserves it, it is Thurber!