On Jan. 8, 2011 a psychotic and insane Jared Loughner terrorized this community, killing six and wounding 13. A year and a half later, his saner self saved this community further harm by admitting to what he did and agreeing to spend the rest of his life in prison.
The agreement was a bargain with prosecutors – in exchange for his guilty pleas to murder and other charges, prosecutors agreed to not pursue the death penalty against him.
By avoiding a trial, the victims, their families and Tucson avoid being forced to relive that awful day over and over again as prosecutors recreate for a jury the minute-by-minute horrors of the shooting through the testimony of victims, through a video of the shooting as it happened and through grisly photos of the crime scene.
In the end, the sane (or mostly sane) Loughner did what his insane self couldn’t – the right thing.
Yet the decision by prosecutors and Loughner is not without some controversy. Some in this community want to see Loughner put to death for his crimes.
For them, that’s justice.
But it’s not justice. It’s not even punishment. It’s revenge.
Putting a killer to death accomplishes little for the victims of crime or their families. It doesn’t bring the dead back to life, make the scars from bullet wounds disappear, regenerate severed nerves or wash away memories of the terror, pain and sorrow of that horrible day.
Not that the death of a killer doesn’t bring about some primordial sense of satisfaction. It does. But that’s not what justice is about. Our justice system is about punishment for crimes, not retribution for victims. While the blood feud, vendetta, or eye-for-an-eye mentalities were part of archaic justice systems, civilization has outgrown them.
A civil society doesn’t kill its citizens, even if they’ve committed horrendous acts of violence.
If we are to say that killing is wrong, we can’t turn around and say, “except for when the state does it.” If a person has no right to kill another, except in extreme instances in which he is in mortal peril and it’s the only way for him to save himself, then it’s wrong for the state to do it absent any mortal peril.
The state, though, is only in mortal peril at times of war.
Certainly a person in the act of killing others may have to be killed by the state’s law enforcement officers in the interest of saving lives. But if that person is captured instead, as Loughner was, the peril is over. The state has no right to take his life.
Loughner, by his crimes and despite his mental illness, has lost his right to liberty, to walk amongst us in peace. We have every right to be afraid of him, to protect ourselves from the psychotic malevolence that dwells inside of him, and to punish him for the lives he destroyed, even if that destruction was the result of mental illness.
He will deserve every day he spends in prison.
But just like he had no right to kill John Roll, Christina Taylor-Green, Gabe Zimmerman, Dorothy Morris, Phyllis Schneck and Dorwan Stoddard we have no right to kill him, even if it would be oddly satisfying.