Monday, November 04, 2002

The problem isn’t that John Ashcroft supports the death penalty. The problem is that he craves it.

Without Ashcroft’s intercession, John Muhammad and Lee Malvo might well be tried on murder charges in half a dozen venues. It’s inconceivable that Muhammad would avoid a death sentence, and it’s likely that the seventeen-year-old Malvo would receive one as well.

But that’s not good enough for our vengeful attorney general.

He is desperate to bump Virginia’s case against Muhammad and Malvo to the top of the list, solely because the odds of a death sentence against the youth are the greatest there.

I’m not going to make a general argument against the death penalty here, though I oppose it. This is a subject on which minds are made up. I won’t even argue against the death penalty for minors, though this particularly appalls me. That seems to be a settled issue in many states in the union, including states where Muhammad and Malvo will be tried if Ashcroft’s desperate craving doesn’t result in execution before some trials can take place.

I admit I’ll have a hard time mustering outrage if John Muhammad is found guilty and executed. But it seems obvious that Lee Malvo underwent soul murder at Muhammad’s hand before the murder spree began. For this reason, I’m outraged that our attorney general has made it his mission to rush Malvo to the death chamber.

Abandoned by his mother in Antigua at fifteen, Malvo seems to have handed over his entire identity to Muhammad. He ate what Muhammad said he could eat, and went hungry when nothing was acceptable. He kept himself two paces behind Muhammad and stopped walking when Muhammad stopped. He was named Lee, but became John because Muhammad’s name was John.

I know Malvo may have sometimes -- or always -- been the one in the Caprice who pulled the trigger. I’m not proclaiming his innocence. I’m expressing uncertainty -- something John Ashcroft seems never to have done in his life.

A sociopath, maybe two, conceived this murder spree and took a sick satisfaction from it. John Ashcroft is not a sociopath -- yet his satisfaction when Lee Malvo is sentenced to death will differ from what the sniper or snipers felt only in degree.

No comments: