William The Coroner’s Forensic Files

Friday, 21, August, 2009

Profound Ambivalence

Filed under: People who need pianos dropped on them,Social Commentary — williamthecoroner @ 09:29

Noose-LAs a forensic pathologist, I have developed a case of profound ambivalence about capital punishment.  On the one hand, I recognize that people are fallible.  I do my best to do right by my patients, because it is the right thing to do, not out of fear of consequences of being wrong.  My fellow forensic scientists, I believe, feel the same way.  We do want to work for justice, and justice may be served if blame can be fairly assigned.  I shy away from consequences that are unchangeable.  If you are going to use the coercive power of the state to take a life, you’d better be bloody well sure that the person did it.  As the coercive power of the state can be mis-used (Joe Hill, anyone?)  it is prudent to err on the side of caution.

I have no inherent problems with LWOP (Life Without Parole), as long as it means what it says on the box.   There is one offender in Maine’s prison system who is on his second “life” sentance.  He got out of prison after “Life” which was a dozen years, and went on to re-offend spectacularly).   The public forgets over time, and victims get short shrift.

The Lybian Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi was convicted of the Lockerbie Bombing, where 270 people were killed when the device he planed in an airliner detonated.  270 innocents.  People who had no skin in the game in a dispute between Lybia and the UK except misfortune.  Now, I am well aware that life is not fair, and that there is such a thing as asymmetrical warfare, and all of the realities of this modern world.  Al-Megrahi was turned over by the Lybians, he was convicted, and developed prostatic carcinoma in prison3880091f1 This killer is being released to die in comfort at home.

I’m not the first to comment on this, as you can see here, here, and here.  I do concur, however, that this does not discourage these acts.  This person murdered, for profit (he was paid) and political reasons several HUNDRED people and he received a “heroes welcome?”

While I acknowledge the cost-savings for not having him die in prison, c’mon people. Compassion is all well and good. Mercy and forgiveness are important character traits. There is a difference between being compassionate and being a patsy, however. Al-Megrahi got into prison on the strength of his own actions, and showed no compassion towards his victims. Perhaps a judicial execution would be one final obscenity capping off a series of obscenities, one may argue the point. But let him die in prison. If not pour discourager les autres, at least for justice for those he killed without compassion.

If one does away with capital punishment as being too cruel and inhumane one must, in decency to the victims, have a replacement that both protects society and provides a measure of retribution. If we are too enlightened to just deal death outright, the living death of a 23 & 1 ADMAX is perfectly fine. To me, it seems more calculating and unfeeling, the modern version of the oubliette, a little forgetting place.
Image from www.radekaphotography.com/noose.htm, Shakespeare NM


  1. And if it IS ADMAX 23-1, there is NO parole… Although I favor the death penalty myself.

    Comment by Old NFO — Friday, 21, August, 2009 @ 17:56 | Reply

  2. The issue with this guy is the law exists independently of this sort of case. But you’re right, for him, they could have made an exception and fought to keep his bastard ass in jail. It’s stomping all over everyone’s sense of justice, I think, regardless of where one would generally come in politically.

    Comment by redrabbitslife — Monday, 24, August, 2009 @ 12:30 | Reply

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