- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 11, 2004

How do we kill thee, let us count the ways.Try, try and try again, as we might, you can die only once.

So why are Virginia prosecutors and others lining up to retry John Allen Muhammad and his so-called “adopted son,” Lee Boyd Malvo, who were sentenced earlier this week for the senseless sniper slayings? Overkill? Overzealous prosecution? Or should these killers be tried for each heinous case they are charged with committing from here to the West Coast? If so, to what end? Muhammad is to be put to death. Malvo is to spend the rest of his life behind bars. The judges in both cases rightly followed the juries’ directives and levied the appropriate punishments.

At what point is it more productive to bring closure and move on?

This is not to suggest leniency. After all, there should be none for this abhorrent man and this abused boy who terrorized the D.C. area during those three scary weeks in October 2002. No Hollywood Halloween movie could be more frightening that the real-life horror show most of us survived by sheer luck.

For those who didn’t survive and for their loved ones, we can grieve, offer our condolences, our help as they attempt to rebuild their lives, and our promise and our vigilance that we will ensure that these sentences are upheld.

Watching the heart-wrenching reaction of the relatives of the Muhammad-Malvo shooting spree as they came to the microphones one by one was unbearable. You begin to wonder just how many more times could they or should they be made to relive this ordeal should there be subsequent trials? And, there are those who wonder whether it serves the public to spend millions in taxpayer dollars to retry this duo when each has received the ultimate age-appropriate penalties the law will allow.

For me, it really comes down to overkill. You can give Muhammad a lethal injection as he sits in an electric chair in the middle of the gas chamber. He’s still going to die just once.

As for Malvo, he was an unduly influenced juvenile at the time of these crimes, and for that reason alone, the death penalty should not be an option. Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. is hopeful that come fall the U.S. Supreme Court will change its stance prohibiting capital punishment for juveniles. The younger sniper could receive the harsher sentence should he be convicted again in another jurisdiction.

For those critics, life imprisonment is not enough. Anyone who thinks spending a day in jail — let alone decades in prison — is a slap on the wrist has never been to one.

True, Malvo lives while he deprived his victims and their families of life as they’d known it. But he’ll pay dearly and daily for his crime, for he’ll never know what it’s like to be a free man, and that must be a living death.

I frequently wrestle with my position about capital punishment. In my youth, I was staunchly opposed to the death penalty. Admittedly, the unthinkable crimes and the untold havoc they wreak on their victims — even more on their survivors — that I’ve witnessed or reported have forced me to re-examine my youthful idealism.

State-sanctioned murder is murder nonetheless. All too often, studies have demonstrated the disproportionate death penalty sentences handed down to minorities. We’ve witnessed cases in which the wrong defendant eventually was released from death row.

Not so with Muhammad. Only Muhammad — who demonstrated that he is either in denial or definitively demonic when he told the court that he didn’t have anything to do with these crimes — knows of his culpability.

These sniper cases are not about mistaken identity by a long shot. Too much of the physical evidence support the juries’ verdicts.

For their parts, Muhammad and Malvo should plead guilty in the remaining cases and spare us all.

Prosecutors suggest that they need to try Muhammad and Malvo for other crimes as a safety net or an insurance policy should these initial cases be overturned by an appellate court. The better time to determine whether to bring the cases again should come after the appeal process. Nothing prevents them from bringing the case again and very likely getting the same results.

Some very bad people do some very bad things to some very good people. But be mindful of the old folks’ saying, “What goes around comes around.”

I’ve been fortunate not to lose a loved one to criminal violence or terrorism, but I’m very well aware of how vulnerable and violated one feels to be a victim of crime, especially when that crime could not be legally proven. You feel that you’ve lost something valuable you can never regain — not your property, but your innocence, your faith in the goodness of others and your sense of self-worth and self-preservation. Finding forgiveness for such fundamental violation is out of the question for all but a few sainted souls.

As human nature dictates, you want nothing more than for your violator to be punished mercilessly to the letter of man’s and God’s law. Sometimes you live to see justice come through. More often than not, the law — no matter how harsh — does not come nearly close enough to assuage the hurt that only time, faith, prayer and a loving support system can heal.

The rest is overkill.

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