Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Trials and tribulations

The good people of metropolitan Boston just saw two highly publicized trials end in guilty verdicts, while another is just beginning in Colorado. These are very different cases.

I didn't have much to say about the Aaron Hernandez trial. It was only a headline event because of the fame of the defendant. The mountain of commentary on the guilty verdict either consisted of rants on the obvious -- yes, he's a bad guy -- or preposterous overinterpretation that implied collective guilt of all New England Patriots fans or some such. Get a grip. Nobody knew that he was a psychopathic murderer until he got caught at it, upon which the Patriots instantly severed all ties with him and the fans lined up to dump their replica jerseys. This isn't even an object lesson in athletes getting coddled and having impunity -- he didn't get into any serious trouble at the University of Florida nor was he a disciplinary problem with the Patriots. His coaches thought he was immature and impulsive, so they watched him carefully. They knew he was a pothead but obviously that wasn't hurting his athletic performance. So this is just a one-off story of a warped individual.

Dzokhar Tsarnaev's guilt was never in doubt, so now we're in the phase when the jury has to decide whether to give him the needle. Seventy percent of Massachusetts residents don't want him to be snuffed. His lawyers even made the argument before the jury the death is preferable to life in the supermax, so why go easy on him? They're probably right, in fact. Don't click on this link if you are prone to nightmares. The question, then, is why the prosecutors are so determined to get him killed ten or fifteen years from now instead of letting him go insane and kill himself in twenty? It's a mystery.

In the case of James Holmes in the Aurora movie theater massacre, the issue is legal insanity. Here too, I'm kind of missing the point. He is indisputably insane in the vernacular sense. Everybody agrees on a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. But there's this weird philosophical issue with not guilty by reason of insanity, which doesn't have to do with whether he is mentally ill but with whether he could "appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions," whatever that means. Who cares? He's obviously dangerous and he needs to be locked up but what's the point of killing him? I don't get it. The state is wasting millions of dollars on this absurd exercise.

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