Life, or Death for Monfort?


I’m ambivalent about capital punishment. As a human being, I am disturbed by the planned, ritualistic homicide of another human being; and it’s a bit worrying that The State has the power to kill its citizens. On the other hand, I’ll not shed any tears over the execution of certain individuals. Since it has been demonstrated that people on Death Row can be successfully removed from society, killing them serves no purpose. So put to a vote, I would vote to abolish capital punishment. But there are people who insist on vengeance.

In Monfort’s case, he is clearly a Bad Man. (Or he’s a nut, lashing out at perceived injustices, and he sees himself as a Hero.) His crime was not against an individual; it was against the government. (I think they have a name for that. :wink: ) His victim, therefore, was pretty much a random target. That is, unlike a barricaded suspect, he was not fighting to escape or even to be left alone; he willfully went out and hunted someone who was not a direct threat to him. And he intended to kill other people who were not even LEOs when he laid his booby trap. If anyone deserves execution, he does.

But what is the greater punishment? Strapping him to a table and taking his life? Or allowing him to live out his life in confinement, unable to move from the waist down? Once he’s dead, the punishment is over. Alive, he has to live with the paralysis and other consequences of his actions for a long, long time. If we, as a society, want vengeance, would the harsher punishment be life without parole? If so, would that be cruel?

I put this in Great Debates because this is where it would be moved in any case. I’ve laid out my humble opinion on capital punishment in the first paragraph. So I won’t be debating it here. As for Monfort, I’m not taking a position either way and would just like to read others’ opinions.

I’m also ambivalent about capital punishment. Ethically I have no problem with it in violent crimes for which there was no justification, some premeditation (i.e. not an act of passion) and with clear intent to kill (or even for crimes that did not result in death in some circumstances- serial rapists for example, or those who left somebody for dead with clear intent to kill, etc.). However I believe death penalty reform is badly needed; in my opinion death penalty cases guild should be proven not just beyond a reasonable doubt of twelve jurors but pretty much beyond any doubt through forensics, reliable eye witnesses, cameras, or other “way beyond what’s required for just a conviction” evidence. There are too many cases of DNA exonerations, proven legal defense malpractice or incompetence, cases like the West Memphis Three (whose complete innocence I’m not convinced of [though innocence doesn’t need to be proven] but the reasonable doubts couldn’t be more glaring and obvious if they were wearing bikinis and swimcaps and waterproof lipstick and spelling out REASONABLE DOUBTS in synchronized swimming relays and every lipstick wearing synch-swimmer a male over 40 and over 280 pounds). So while I have no ethical problems with the act, I have major problems with the randomness and fairness of its application.

That said, Monfort certainly fits the clearly established guilt part. The paralysis leaves him either helpless or something close to it. There’s little doubt he’ll never be a real danger again. However this doesn’t mitigate his crime in the least; if he were brain dead and on life support 24/7/365 he’d still be guilty, and personally I don’t see capital punishment as reserved for those likely to kill again but for those whose crimes demand social closure.

However, I’m also a major believer that the victims of violent crimes (or their survivors) should have a say in the punitive process, so I would leave it to them. If they (or their representatives) ask for leniency I’d be fine with commuting the sentence to life without parole, or even if they’re deadlocked or split I’d be fine with erring on the side of commutation to life imprisonment. Otherwise, if I personally had to make the call, paralyzed or not in consideration of his crimes I’d have no great problem with letting him be killed.

The system of justice is not perfect. But that said, it’s almost certain that anyone who ends up on death row is not going to be missed by the world. And of course, death itself is hardly a vast punishment. Being afraid of killing people who are almost certainly guilty and who are certainly not necessary for the continued peace and welfare of general society is rather silly.

But, it’s also silly to kill someone if you can lock them up for far cheaper.

But of course it’s even sillier that it should cost less to imprison someone for 50 to 70 years than to kill them. Unfortunately, this is the case.

However, nearly all of the reasons that the death penalty cost more than life incarceration is due to measures set up to make the death penalty an infeasible verdict. Again, this is rather silly.

Either way, the anti-death penalty crowd have essentially won. It’s probably not worth arguing at this point because you would have to revamp vast swaths of state and national law to make the death penalty viable. And getting fussed about the few people who actually do get executed each year is of far less practical importance than, say, whether or not fences should be set up along the Grand Canyon. That may only account for 4 or 5 people dying a year, as opposed to the (gasp) 40 that are executed each year, but it’s almost certain that all of the 4 to 5 people are innocent of killing anyone.

In this case, which is the greater punishment; killing him, or forcing him to live with his paralysis and the knowledge that he did it to himself?

No idea. It’s going to depend on him. He might well enjoy his incarceration. I doubt that a guy in a wheel chair is going to be bullied or raped in prison, and he’ll probably get a better space than most because of his infirmity. If he has no qualms about what he did, then he’s set with free room and board for the rest of his life, an easily accessible library and computer, and plenty of people to socialize with.

Really, neither one is much of a punishment. Prison mostly sucks because you aren’t free to live your life as you want to and because the company isn’t real great. But that’s hardly a great horror. You can find any number of people–particularly those living in poverty–who would describe their lives much the same. And of course this is by and large the same class of people who end up in prison.

Perhaps this will take the discussion off the tracks from what you intended, but really the main problem I have with the prison system is that it follows no sort of logic. It’s like with training dogs or little kids, reward and punishment are necessary to teach anything but only useful if used consistently. When rewards and punishments are capricious, the lesson just isn’t learned.

The death penalty might not really be a punishment, but most people are afraid of death and so it can be considered to be something that will ward people away from poor behavior. But, there’s almost nothing you can do to actually get on the death penalty list, since the requirement for it to be a sentence in (nearly?) all states is that the crime have raised the public’s ire. You can never know which murder of which little girl is going to be the one that does that, versus the 500 cases that don’t. Once actually sentenced then, you’ve got something like a 90% chance of being able to get the sentence overturned over minutiae in the original trial, because a death penalty trial has to be conveyed within very specific guidelines that no one actually has any experience with since nearly no cases even try for the death penalty. But that overturning only happens after years of appeals. When you will actually be executed, if your case holds, is also random. You might be executed after 5 years or after 40.

The whole thing has been made so capricious that the only point of it is, literally, to be able to have the satisfaction of executing people who committed no greater crime than plenty of other people, but who had the misfortune to gain the public ire. But subsequently, loses all power that it might have had as a deterrent. And in its place as the only other option is free room and board, a library, a computer, lots of people with similar interests and upbringings to hang around with, free classes, and your own private doctor.


I’m not ambivalent about capital punishment.
I find it perfectly reasonable to kill people who are absolutely guilty of certain capital crimes, or who admit their guilt without being under duress of any kind.

I’m unable to distinguish killing in war and executing criminals. Both deliberately take a human life for a putative greater good. Since I am not a pacifist, I can hardly be opposed to capital punishment.

The whole legal system is so nonsensical it becomes kind a farce to debate practical capital punishment itself, in my opinion.

It’s irrelevant to worry whether it’s a greater punishment to kill a criminal or imprison him. The purpose of punishment is justice–it’s not maximizing the suffering of a criminal. If you want him to suffer, keep him alive and torture him indefinitely. If you are not going to actively torture him (and not many of us are in favor of that) then the question of which is the greater punishment would vary by individual. The rate of suicide among those imprisoned for life does not seem to suggest that life imprisonment is typically considered a worse punishment than being dead.

If the argument is that the death penalty is cruel and unusual in violation of the 8th amendment, and you concede that a life without parole sentence is even harsher, then isn’t life without parole a violation of the 8th amendment as well?

A fair point, and one which I thought of when I was writing the OP.

I don’t claim that the death penalty is cruel; nor, in the context of history or its current application, unusual. I just wouldn’t mind if it were abolished.

But yeah, if making him live with his paralysis is harsher than just killing him (and he won’t even know he’s dead, because… you know, he’ll be dead), then executing him would be merciful. But there are those who think that execution is the ‘harshest’ punishment, and some who think torturing people to death is too lenient in some cases. So if that’s the case, they should want Monfort to live in captivity for a very long time.

Right. And to me it shows that it is not the case that death penalty proponents want cruel and/or harsh punishments. We want a just, correct, and proportional punishment, e.g. you took a life, therefore we will actively take your life.

Now, I realize that our current death penalty makes a mockery of the whole process. What is the point of executing a 67 year old man for a crime he committed as a 41 year old in a different era? The appeals process is far too cumbersome to make it a punishment like it was originally intended.

I’ll try to find a cite for you, but in the 1960s the West Virginia Legislature was debating a bill to eliminate the death penalty and replace it with a life without a possibility of parole sentence. The bill was scuttled because many senators felt that it was unconscionable to sentence a man to prison with no hope of release for the rest of his life.

If his crimes are as described, then I would say death.