None of these defendants is a poster boy for abolition of the death penalty. Hayes's partner, who will go on trial in January, probably gives defense attorneys even less to work with than Hayes did. As far as I can tell, abolitionists have had little to say about these cases, probably feeling that discretion is the better part of valor.
I hereby stipulate:
- There is absolutely no doubt of guilt in either of them. (The Nashua jury hasn't returned a verdict as I write but still . . . )
- The depravity and moral offense of the crimes is extreme. (Yes, the scale is small; we can talk about war crimes and genocide another time.)
- There are no substantial mitigating circumstances or factors in either case.
- There is no issue of racism or discrimination. All the relevant parties are white and of average class background.
As many have said, if the death penalty doesn't apply here, it never applies. These are slam dunks. (Nevertheless, the Hayes jury took almost four days to decide on the sentence, and evidently some jurors started off favoring life in prison.)
So why do I wade in here, where it is perhaps best not to tread? Because here is where I feel we must take a stand. If you read the comments on news articles about both cases, you will see mobs howling for vengeance. Many commenters make a great effort, and seem to take great pride, in trying to imagine the most gruesome tortures for the guilty, striving to outdo in their own imaginations the very crimes they claim to abhor.
That is, in the end, the only justification for having the state kill these men: vengeance. It obviously will not restore anything they destroyed, will not deter anyone else -- people who do such things have no thought for the future. All it accomplishes is to bring all of us a tiny bit of the way into their moral universe. I prefer to remain outside.