- The Washington Times - Monday, January 20, 2003

If I were a death penalty advocate, which I'm not, I would use John Taylor as the poster boy for lethal injection.

Taylor is the guy who masterminded the Wendy's massacre in Queens. He tried to execute seven people, but two of them survived and fingered him.

His motive for the crime: money. (He and his accomplice made off with $2,400 in cash.)

His motive for the killings: eliminating witnesses.

He and his mentally retarded assistant duct-taped the mouths of the seven people, put white trash bags over their heads, herded them into a walk-in freezer, lined them up on their knees, and systematically shot them.

The reason this is the perfect death penalty case, as far as arguing for and against, is that for 50 years the national debate has centered on one principal issue: Does the death penalty deter crime?

Since half of the capital crimes that end up going to court are armed robberies gone bad — the stereotypical convenience store gunman — the whole debate hinges on what we should do when a murder occurs during the commission of a felony. You can argue it either way. Some believe that we'll have fewer armed robberies if potential criminals see the prisons full of drugstore robbers waiting to die.

But the argument is also made that the death penalty doesn't deter crime because the kind of person who wants to hold up a liquor store is not going to be thinking "But what if I kill somebody?" He's already a desperate man, and he's not considering consequences.

But John Taylor ends all ambiguity. He intended to kill those Wendy's employees from the get-go. He didn't think, "If I can get the money and get away clean, I'll let them live." He thought, "The ONLY way I can get away clean is to make sure they're all dead." He simply botched the job.

We know this because he was a fired employee of this particular Wendy's, and the only reason they let him inside at closing time was that everyone knew him. Fleeing the scene after a robbery would have gained him nothing. They all knew his name and the company itself knew where he lived. So the only logical conclusion is that he thought his need for money was worth seven murders.

(The other possibility is that he went insane and decided to carry out a massacre as an act of revenge against the company that fired him, and the robbery was just an afterthought. In that case it would be a depraved hate crime that would probably be defended with an insanity defense. Since his public defenders didn't use this, I think we can assume Taylor was not crazed.)

I think the absolute strongest argument for the death penalty comes in cases involving the killing of witnesses. In many crimes, the victim is also the only witness. Most murders by child molesters, for example, are carried out simply to make sure the child doesn't identify the rapist. The idea is that we need the death penalty so that felons will think it's better to let witnesses live than to kill them and get lethally injected later.

If you're thinking about the consequences of your potential crimes when you first case the joint you're going to hold up, your liability runs something like this:

1. Armed robbery: 5 to 15.

2. Simple murder: 20 to 40.

3. Capital murder: Death.

The difference between 2 and 3 is what is supposed to keep the witnesses alive. Capital punishment is supposed to encourage the felon to rob but not kill. The idea of getting "stretched" in prison — a sentence of 10 years or more — is frightening to even hardened criminals. And so the question is: are they MORE frightened by the idea of being killed than being stretched?

After all, if you DON'T have capital punishment, then there's very little difference between going down for robbery or going down for murder. If you believe you can get away entirely by killing a witness or two, then your additional risk is NOT THAT GREAT.

And then you have John Taylor. He knew that New York state has capital punishment. It's impossible to live here and NOT know that. He knew he would have to kill the witnesses if he had any chance of avoiding prison. And he chose to do the crime anyway.

This is why I think the death penalty doesn't work. Capital crimes are not committed by people who weigh the consequences of their acts. They don't think, "Well, I'll risk 40 years in prison but I won't risk death." Their whole makeup is focused on the short term. "Tomorrow" is not in their vocabularies.

John Taylor did receive the death penalty, and the verdict was applauded by everyone. But you can't really justify it under any theory of deterrence. He knew he was going to kill. He knew the result of his killing could be his own death. And he was UNDETERRED.

In the future, let's retire this word "deterrence" entirely. It's no longer relevant. Let's call it what it is: vengeance.

John Taylor must die so that society can feel that a wrong has been righted. But let's not delude ourselves that somehow we've made the streets safer or saved a future life. This is blood for blood. The certainty that he'll die makes us feel better.

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(John Bloom writes a number of columns for UPI and may be contacted at [email protected] or through his Web site at joebobbriggs.com. Snail mail: P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, Texas 75221.)





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