Thursday, October 05, 2006

Why is Murdering Four Better Than Murdering One?

In the statement made by the prosecutor in the Dru Sjodin murder case (after the jury came back with the decision to give Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. the death penalty) the rightness of that penalty was linked to the absolute innocence of his victim. I found that statement deeply troubling because it implied that the plea deal the defense wanted to make was rejected because of the victim rather than because of the crime itself.

Now I see that in Toledo a trucker, Dellmus Colvin, who murdered four women had a plea deal accepted so he will avoid the death penalty and will spend the rest of his life in prison without parole. One key difference between Colvin and Rodriguez is the victim of choice.

Colvin killed prostitutes.

We assume Rodriguez would murder again, we know Colvin would. Yet Colvin gets 2 life sentences and Rodriguez gets the death penalty.

The easy answer for this difference would be to blame the legal system or the prosecutors, but they are a reflection of a bigger problem. Sexual crimes are too often judged and sentenced based on judgments about the victims.

We are horrified when obviously innocent young women are brutally murdered by a man who finds sexual satisfaction in the crime, but another crime with as many or more murder victims who are less than innocent may not register a single emotion.

Is it that we think certain women might as well have a sign around their neck that says, "murder me" or is that we think they somehow deserve punishment for not falling neating into the innocent-victim mold? Or is it that certain crimes hit us more viscerally or shake up our sense of safety in a way that other horrific crimes fail to do?

I'm not sure it's been studied, but it seems like murders that evoke public outrage get prosecuted more fiercely and may be more dangerous politically for the prosecutor to strike a plea deal. If that's what's happening then the death sentence may be less about deterring sex crimes and murder than it is about giving the public a cathartic release.

The criminal justice system becomes therapy for the masses, if you will.

But when public satisfaction trumps justice, nobody wins.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:03 AM   0 comments links to this post


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