Theory: The Gosnell trial is to the pro-choice cause what the Boston bombings are to the anti-capital-punishment cause. That can be tested, of course, with a poll. Let’s see what public support for the death penalty in deep-blue Massachusetts looks like this week compared to how it’s looked in the past. Any pollsters out there want to check? Don’t worry about your data being skewed by the public’s swell of emotion after a terrible slaughter. It’s totally legit to recraft policy when tempers are running hot. Ask Obama about that vis-a-vis gun control.
If you think Menino’s talking tough because he suspects, almost certainly correctly, that most of the city’s voters want to see Tsarnaev get the needle, guess again. He announced a few weeks ago that he’s retiring after this term. He’s got nothing to gain politically by saying it. What you’re seeing here, I think, is simply a guy grappling with justice for a killer whose guilt doesn’t seem to be in question. If the affidavit’s correct, it’s plain from the video footage that Tsarnaev was one of the bagmen. He put the bomb down six feet or so behind an eight-year-old kid and his even younger sister. He partied two days later, then ended up tossing bombs at the cops who chased him him. The leading theory of why they killed the officer at MIT is because they wanted an extra gun so that they could kill more people. If you believe the Boston Globe and other media, Tsarnaev’s reportedly confessed to virtually all of this in the hospital. Odds are good that he won’t even contest the charges at trial but will focus on penalty mitigation. The one irresistible argument against capital punishment is the risk that it’ll be imposed on an innocent man, but if the man’s not innocent, even by his own admission, with a pile of physical evidence against him, what’s the argument then? That it costs the state a little more to handle death-penalty appeals? Menino can’t find a reason. Neither can I.
There are some people, Menino maybe now among them, who oppose capital punishment on principle except in cases of terrorism. I’ve never fully understood that. If death is wrong because it’s a power that shouldn’t be trusted to the state, why make a special exception for the state vis-a-vis … its political enemies? If the answer to that is that some offenders warrant special condemnation, how is that an argument to spare other offenders who deserve death too but acted from nonpolitical motives? It’s a matter of justice, not expression. Tsarnaev deserves it, but so do the Bundys and Dahmers who kill and kill and kill and kill to gratify themselves. The question, I think, begins with whether there’s any doubt that the accused is guilty (a higher bar than exists now) and, if not, ends with whether the jury feels sufficient pity for the defendant, for whatever reason, to spare him. Poll Boston on this one, see what you get.