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Executing the DC Sniper

by Michael Bindner

Last night, John Alan Muhammed, who brainwashed John Malvo, a teen, and manipulated him into a murder spree that terrorized the Washington area, was executed.

Personally, as one who lives there and lived in fear of death, I am not entirely displeased with this. Of course, this means that my opinion of the rightness of the execution is a bit clouded - much in the same way I would not seeing Osama bin Laden's head on a platter (although I believe he is already dead from kidney disease). Again, because I was within shrapnel range of the Capitol on September 11, having been evacuated from the Department of Labor two blocks away, my judgment on the issue of his fate is also clouded.

On Friday, a gunman went on a rampage and killed almost a dozen people at his former office, blaming the firm which fired him years before for his actions. He, the beltway shooter and bin Laden seem to have gone down a path of deliberate evil. The question is, does this evil merit execution?

While capital punishment is allowed under canon law, there is a condition. This can only occur if a suitable confinement is not possible - suitability including the risk posed to other inmates. This responsibity to make these decisions formerly rested with the sovereign. In a democracy, however, we are all sovereign so it is our call collectively - as well as our responsibility to protect innocent life (including the lives of other inmates).

In my opinion, murders are not altogether sane. If there is a reason for this insanity and it can be reversed with either medication or sobriety, it is not just to kill them. Indeed, after some period they should be released. Indeed, if there is no doubt about their guilt or their mental state, they should be allowed to plead guilty by reason of insanity and serve the penalty for voluntary manslaughter in a hospital setting.

Those who cannot be cured are another matter. I once read that those who are sentenced to life without parole consider themselves sentenced to death. Indeed, this is likely true, since their incarceration will indeed be the cause of their deaths eventually. If they are locked up alone in a "super-max" facility they will likely become insane before too long (if they were not already) and they are being killed by slow torture. It would be better to kill them quickly if they cannot be cured, not for the sake of justice, but as a form of permissible euthenasia. We should not be in a hurry to do so, so that they may have the chance to repent in time, although if they chose to be executed, we should not stop them. Indeed, many executions occur because the condemned decides to quit fighting. Perhaps this is a model of how this should be done.

What of Mr. Muhammed? I doubt that he has been given a real evaluation as to his sanity or his reformability and that is likely an injustice. If I were Governor of Virginia, I would at least try to find out and then bless my stars that the office is term limited.