Is death the answer?
In the case of James Holmes, the gunman of the Aurora movie theatre shooting in Colorado, prosecutors argue, “justice is death.” And ultimately, I have to agree.
Typically I am not an advocate of the death penalty, but in this particular instance there is no better option.
Recently, Holmes offered to plead guilty in exchange for life in prison with no chance of parole. The prosecution quickly rejected the offer.
In order to prevent Holmes from being sentenced to death, the defense is relying on the argument that the gunman is supposedly mentally ill. Just over a month before the Aurora shooting, Holmes’ therapist warned campus police that he was a dangerous man who was admittedly having homicidal thoughts. Regardless, this knowledge does not change my opinion that Holmes deserves capital punishment.
Historically, the justice system has attempted to spare mentally ill and disabled defendants by arguing that putting such individuals to death would be unethical. The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects American citizens by disallowing cruel and unusual punishment. However, the Constitution never explicitly states that it is unconstitutional to punish a mentally ill person the same as a sane person.
Mental illness is not an excuse to commit crimes. Murder is murder.
If any individual experiencing homicidal thoughts can be classified as a person with a mental illness, then all convicted murderers would be mentally ill. If the justice system attempted to lessen the punishment for each one of those murderers, there would be no death penalty.
Perhaps this would also mean that people who commit crimes while on drugs are absolved of responsibility for their actions as well. As a result, others may be encouraged to stage similar attacks armed with the knowledge that they will not receive the death penalty.
One must also acknowledge the fine line between mental illness and mental disability. Holmes was a college student at the University of Colorado with a major in neuroscience. By no means was this man subject to a mental disability. He knew exactly what he was doing when he brought weapons into a movie theatre and he should undoubtedly face the consequences.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), the death penalty trial will most likely last between four and nine months, and if he’s convicted, there may be as many as ten to fifteen years before Holmes is faced with lethal injection. Since it is said that the death penalty cost will be similar to other states, let’s use California’s death penalty cost as an example. If we do this, putting Holmes to death would cost a grand total of around $4 million including trial, appeals, incarceration, and injection.
Colorado has only put one person to death since 1997. The DPIC lists the cost of keeping a convict in prison as roughly 90,000 dollars per year. Holmes is only 25 years old, and keeping him in prison for around 50 years would total $4.5 million, more than the cost of injection, provided he lives to age 75.
Cost aside, America’s justice system has an ethical responsibility to punish criminals. Colorado should make an example out of Holmes and show the nation that murder is a serious offense, mentally ill or not.
Holmes’ actions are inexplicable and unforgivable. He robbed innocent people of the chance to continue a healthy and fulfilling life and thrust incredible pain upon an undeserving many. Nothing can repair the damage this man has caused and no punishment will force him to understand the gravity of his appalling behavior.
However, if he’s put to death, perhaps the affected will be able to sleep easier at night with the knowledge that justice has been served.