UPDATE: Death it is for Joshua Komisarjevsky. The jury completed its work and reported its verdict at about 3:15 p.m. today. Let the world marvel at how we will kill the killer for killing and call it just.
Today will be the day, I say. The jurors will check their notes, and, perhaps, head out for lunch, or at the very least a breath of fresh air, and then they will return to take seats in courtroom 6A. There they will report their verdict, a verdict that will result in a sentence of either death or life without possibility of parole for Joshua Komisarjevsky.
I am rooting against the State. The death penalty is savage, wasteful, self-indulgent and terrifying. Giving the State the power to kill is wrong. Killing because it feels good is the very crime we condemn in others. Why bring it upon ourselves?
The other day, I was accused of rooting for murderers and monsters. My accuser told me he supported the victims and innocent. How do I sleep at night?, he asked. Good lord, the rhymes Simple Simon recites!
My sleep is far more troubled by a State that kills than it is by the isolated acts of mayhem by men like Komisarjevsky. Yes, a troubled madman can strike at random and destroy me and my family. But far more powerful is the adversary I never see. The State is our grandest legal fiction. We tax in its name. We imprison in its name. We kill in its name. Yet the State never acts save through individuals with interests of their own. "Hold the defendant accountable," the prosecution says. But the State is never accountable. It cannot even be sued. The invisible sovereign is immune from the claims of justice. It creates neither life, nor liberty, nor happiness. It is a tool we use to keep passions in check.
I would hate the State if I could but find it, but is is a mere vapor, an incantation by men and women who love the feel of power. Instead, I view its ministers with a skepticism in this case laced with disdain. A self-righteous mob worries me far more than a lone killer, or, if you must, a killer with an accomplice. Killing is never just. In this case, killing is not necessary to achieve what justice requires: condemnation of unspeakable acts and isolation of a man too dangerous to live at liberty.
I come down on the side Komisarjevsky occupies in the death-penalty portion of this capital proceeding not because I endorse the crimes for which he has already been convicted. To suggest otherwise is simply silly. I come down on his side of the aisle now because giving the State the power to kill terrifies. Few nations today resort to killing as a form of "justice." "An eye for an eye," Gandhi once said, "makes the whole world blind."
This case has stirred wild and stormy passions. The streets outside the Church Street courthouse were lined with news vans when the dark crimes Komisarjevsky committed were presented through witnesses in court. One by one, the news vans trickled away during the weeks’ long presentation of the defense case. Komisarjevsky’s defense team labored to answer the following question: How is it possible that one of us could do the things this man did? No effort or expense was spared to recreate the life that went so horribly and destructively wrong. People lost interest.
Now that blood is in the air, the streets are packed again. We can’t get our fill of the very thing we say we hate. Reporters vie for a view, the better to feed our passions.
I fear this speaks a troubling truth about our kind. There is a dark fascination with horror, a rage to destroy this "evil" man within our midst. Why? I suggest its because we all bear the human stain. There is a little evil in us all. We watch his crimes and condemn them, all the while raging in much the same manner as he must have that horrible night in July 2007 in Cheshire. It feels so good to hate, so long as we hate the other. Far harder to take the measure of our own rage.
So we empower the State to kill in our name. Kill evil. Kill the monster. And then we stuff wax in our ears to avoid hearing about how one of us became capable of killing. I suspect there is a fear we might recognize something of ourselves in the man. Twitter comments expressed disgust that Komisarjevsky reads now about the decline of Rome, or that he draws strikingly beautiful pictures. Banish the thought that he is one of us. Call him evil. Condemn the caricature before it acquires dimension and sits beside us, whispering in a voice that we can discern that all have sinned and do sin.
Justice, we say, requires that we kill Komisrajevsky because he killed others. It is a sick and twisted equation. Empowering the State to become a minister of hate merely fosters the same darkness we fear. In this case, we give to prosecutors the chance to take life. We dress up our rage and say that we will feel closure when sentence is imposed. An expectant public demands a death. Such savage bread we break; such a pitiless circus we attend.
Should Komisarjevsky in fact be killed by the State there will be only emptiness when he is gone. To suggest his death brings closure is a sick joke. No sleepers will awaken when he assumes his place beside them. We will have killed him and pretended that what he did was foreign to the species, and we will do so without any sense of irony because blindness is convenient. We kill him and we will send him to wherever the dead go and pretend that we have triumphed over evil. But we will kill him at the cost of creating a new band of those who carry the weight of taking another’s life. Twelve jurors will have dipped their hands in blood. More troubling, prosecutors will decide that they can take life and call it just.
I hope the jury avoids the sweet temptation to eat of the tree of death. But I fear it won’t. When the sun next sets I suspect there will be back-slapping all around and hopes that Komisarjevsky soon rots in Hell. It reminds me of the theologian's tale about Christians whose enjoyment of paradise is enhanced by the site of those suffering in Hell. The Hell to which we will send Komisarjevsky is a place we are too willing to call home.