Two first-degree murder trials currently under way could determine whether the death penalty is dead in this country.
The two trials are the Boston Marathon bombing trial in Boston and the Craig Stephen Hicks trial in Chapel Hill. In each case, there is no question as to whether the accused committed the crime. Attorneys for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev have admitted that the defendant planted bombs that killed and maimed dozens of innocent spectators. Hicks turned himself in shortly after the murders of three students at a Chapel Hill apartment. The pants he was wearing when he surrendered were stained with blood from one of the victims. Attorneys in both trials are not striving for a not guilty verdict, merely for a sentence of imprisonment, not execution.
The admission by both defendants and their attorneys that the defendants were responsible for the murders takes away one objection to capital punishment — the risk that some innocent person might be wrongly put to death. Whether they are executed or not, these men are murderers.
Most supporters of capital punishment agree that the ultimate punishment must be reserved for the most heinous of crimes. Killings committed in the heat of emotion or passion, killings resulting from extraordinary circumstances should not be punishable by death. But both the Boston and the Chapel Hill trials involved coldly calculated murders, one a carefully planned and cruelly executed mass murder and the other an enraged tantrum by a man reported to be a hair-trigger away from killing anyone who crossed his path.
If capital punishment is ever to be used, these two trials make a case for it. If Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Craig Stephen Hicks are sentenced to life in prison, no rational arguments can henceforth be made in favor of executions. If Tsarnaev and Hicks can live out their natural lives as guests of the government, no future murderer should ever be put to death.