"SATURDAY, DECEMBER 17, 2011: Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity or Cold-Blooded First Degree Murder, and Psychiatric Treatment or Death by Lethal Injection: Three Confounding Case Studies: Stephen Morgan, Joshua Komisarjevsky, and David Messinger."
An Anonymous reader posted a Comment which stimulated a long response by me, which I wrote right after I read the Comment, as I sat here, where I still am, in the Dunkin Donuts on South Main Street in Midddletown. Those of you interested in this topic may find Anonymous's Comment and my reply of similar interest. Here they are:
Thank you very much for your substantive Comment. And thank you for reading "Bobs blog."
I've thought deeply about this subject. During the Komisarjevsky trial, I posted a lot of Comments on courant.com, especially following the article reporting the death penalty verdict by the jury. My online moniker was "Intrigued Lawyer."
Most of the Commenters following the penalty phase were convinced that there was NO QUESTION that Komisarjevsky should and would get the death penalty. They saw the trial as a farce and pointless. How, they wrote, could anyone think otherwise? How gleeful we would be, they Commented, to pull the switch and let the lethal poisons enter Joshua's veins in the execution chamber. They viewed him as "vermin," to be exterminated the way he killed Dr. Petit's daughters and wife. They predicted the jury would make a decision quickly, since there was no alternative to the jury ordering Komisarjevsky killed by the State.
I made it clear, in all of my responses and comments, that I made no judgment about Dr. Petit wanting Komisarjevsky and Hayes to get the death penalty. How do I know how I would react under similar, unthinkable circumstances. I had only compassion for him, but also hoped, as I've written on "Bobs blog," that Dr. Petit is able, as Job was, in the Old Testament tale, to move from a focus on the horror of life to a search for love in the face of tragedy. Again, whether he is capable of achieving that transition, whether I would in similar circumstances, is unknown. But Job shows it's possible. Elie Wiesel shows it's possible.
Consider Elie Wiesel. He survived the Nazi death camps. He lost family members. He looked evil in the face and, in his novel "Night," he wrote that his faith in God went up in smoke from the chimneys of Auschwitz. But somewhere along the line out of the death camps, Wiesel regained his faith.
When Wiesel spoke at my alma mater, Wesleyan, earlier this year, about the death penalty, he said the State should NEVER kill anyone in retaliation for murder. Hard labor, yes. Imprisonment for life, yes. But never capital punishment. Death is not the solution for death, he intoned.
The courant.com Commenters argued from the Old Testament, "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." That, I suggested, was an argument for proportionality in sentencing. While it can also be seen as a justification for capital punishment, that principle must be reconciled with the even older principle that "Thou shalt not kill." In that Commandment, there is no exception for capital punishment by the State.
Now we are humans, not Gods. We live a mortal life of pleasure, pain, and woe. Our souls are more complex than the Ten Commandments may acknowledge. So we make exceptions to the blanket rule: killing in self-defense is fine; killing in warfare is fine, even celebrated; it's okay for the United States to invade Iraq without justification and cause the death of hundreds of thousands of people, thousands of soldiers, and countless maimed people; it was okay for the United States to unleash the atomic bomb on the world, and the world's subsequent history, at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, because the end justified the means; it was okay for America to firebomb Dresden and Tokyo, because the end justified the means.
In the Komisarjevsky case, the courant.com reported that the jurors were in tears because they wanted to find a way to save Joshua's damaged life and still give Dr. Petit the satisfaction of seeing Joshua killed. They could not, so they decided on death.
(Continued in next Comment, due to length limitations of the blog program)
The jury took four days to weigh the evidence and reach a verdict. This infuriated the angry, enraged mob of Commenters on the courant.com Comments section. How, they raged, could the jury be so stupid? How, they ranted, could our justice system be so dysfunctional? How nice, they vented, it would be to pull the switch, to fire up Old Sparky, to see Joshua treated like a bitch by the other prisoners in Somers?
Appalled by their reptilian reaction, which, I Commented, mirrored the reptilian reaction of Joshua Komisarjevsky during the Chestire Home Invasion, I suggested they might, instead, take a different approach. If Lady Justice determines that Joshua must be killed by the State, then let him be killed by the State, by all of us, but we then should ask for God's forgiveness for our own act of killing a creature of God, In Cold Blood. The executioner who pulls the switch to release the killing brew into Joshua's veins will, I hoped, do so with difficulty, with reluctance, and with tears of sadness running down his cheeks. That, I suggested, was the only proper way to possibly reconcile the legal duty to kill the young man with the moral responsibility to refrain from all killing, no exceptions.
The problem with Wiesel's recommendation (death, never; hard labor, forever), and yours, is that we have another moral principle in play in America: the Constitution. The 8th Amendment (no cruel or unusual punishment) has been interpreted in a way which would prohibit some forms of "hard labor" "no recreation, no library access, no computers, no television, no appeals, etc.", as you suggest.
You have raised some VERY interesting and challenging issues. That's why my response has been so long. We've only scratched the surface of this fascinating and enormously complex subject.
I'll leave you with this thought. Our dialogue calls to mind this Zen koan:
WHAT IS THE SOUND OF ONE HAND CLAPPING?
I do hope you'll make more Comments on the blog about this or any other issue.