"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Dexter Lewis verdict sends a message on Colorado's death penalty

James E. Holmes (left), Dexter Lewis (right)
James E. Holmes (left), Dexter Lewis (right)
For the 2nd time this summer, a first-rate team of Colorado prosecutors could not secure a death sentence for the perpetrator of crimes of almost indescribable horror.

Dexter Lewis, like James Holmes, will spend the rest of his life behind bars instead. Never mind that he is guilty of stabbing 5 people to death 3 years ago in an orgy of utter depravity. 1 or more jurors obviously concluded that his woefully sad and painful childhood made him an inappropriate candidate for capital punishment.

This is no criticism of the jury. That conclusion is entirely defensible and perhaps even predictable - just as it was always plausible that defense attorneys would convince at least one juror in Holmes' trial that he was too mentally ill to be put to death.

Moreover, a death sentence for Lewis - a black man - would have raised equity questions after Holmes, who is white, was able to secure life without parole.

But if both verdicts in those cases are reasonable, what do they say about the death penalty statute in Colorado?

They say that it's in tatters.

They say a prosecutor would have to be very reckless to seek the death penalty anytime soon in this state.

They say it's time to rethink whether we should have such a sentence on the books.

There will never be crimes any worse than those committed by Holmes and Lewis. There may be crimes that are their equal in cruelty, but how often are they likely to occur? And why should those criminals be put to death if Holmes and Lewis were not?

Is the death penalty really only for people who commit crimes of similar magnitude who are neither mentally ill nor the product of childhood abuse? How often do such monsters come around?

The death penalty in Colorado has effectively expired. And it didn't happen because of bleeding-heart lawmakers or activist judges. It happened because juries themselves wanted no part of it.

Source: Denver Post Editorial Board, August 28, 2015

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