Remember Chandra Levy? She was the staff intern whose disappearance in May 2001 ended the political career of Gary Condit, the California Congressman with whom Levy was having an affair. Her body was found the following May in Washington's Rock Creek Park. Condit was initially considered a suspect but never arrested.
Now, the Washington Post, Associated Press and other news sources are reporting an arrest is imminent. As it turns out, the suspect is already in prison, serving time for having attacked two other women in Rock Creek Park around the same time Levy disappeared in her jogging clothes.
The agony of losing a child for any reason, much less to a killer, is hard for anyone who has not had the experience to imagine fully. Not to mention going for years without knowing what actually happened or who did the deed.
Yet Levy's father and mother said today:
Robert Levy said he and his wife, Susan, were not told the identity of the person to be arrested "but we all know who it is." He would not elaborate but said they would favor a life sentence for the killer.
"If someone is executed, they really don't suffer too much," he said.
"Yes, with no TV, no movies, no weightlifting," said Susan Levy, adding that she would attend the murder trial. "Someone who does murder like that shouldn't have any comforts."
As a life-long foe of the death penalty, I could not agree more.
My wife and I have included the following coda in each of our wills:
Special Circumstances: If I should be the victim of a murder, and the perpetrator of this crime is caught, tried and convicted; or if said perpetrator confesses to this murder; I instruct my attorney-in-fact to implore the prosecutor, jury, judge or others adjudicating this case not to seek or impose the death penalty, a punishment I oppose under all circumstances.
Many people believe that anyone who opposes capital punishment is automatically soft on crime, willing to carry the admonition of "turn the other cheek" way too far. Not true in my case. Even though I have spent more than three years of my life incarcerated - time in reform school, time in a prison camp for draft resistance and a few months here and there for other protest-related crimes - I favor being tough on violent offenders. Humane, but tough. Including, in some cases, the kind of regime that Levy proposes. Life without parole at hard labor can sometimes be the appropriate punishment.
Being tough on some offenders doesn't mean I believe our criminal-justice system - or our legal system, in general - would be hunky-dory if we just eliminated capital punishment. Far from it. We spend way too little on rehabilitation, education and treating addictions of the incarcerated even though half a million Americans are released from prison back into society every year. We spend in the neighborhood of $50 billion annually at the federal and state level on the war on (some) drugs - for enforcement, interdiction, prosecution and incarceration. A fourth of imprisoned Americans are drug offenders. They are disproportionately people of color. Very few of them should be in the slam.
Those who repeatedly commit violent crimes, on the other hand, are another story. Humane treatment is essential, but that does not preclude hard labor for those who are physically able. And, although three-strikes laws that include all felonies are themselves a crime, laws that mandate longer sentences for offenders who repeatedly commit violent crimes are another matter, just as is finding a creative harshness for dealing with the Bernie Madoffs of the world. It's not a right-wing thing to say: have some sympathy for the victims, and for potential future victims.
Although I suppose in some circles such views tarnish my left-progressive credentials, I think I've made it clear I believe in being appropriately tough on the appropriate crimes. As for the death penalty, however, I an unalterably opposed. Some of my friends won't go so far. Dana Houle aka DHinMI and others argue quite cogently, for instance, that there should be exceptions for heinous war criminals, the Slobodan Milosevics and Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashirs of the world. Other people make exceptions for serial killers whose guilt is undoubted.
I understand. But I cannot go along. The state should never engage in executions. This has nothing to do with whether somebody "deserves to die." Under some circumstances, say someone we love is murdered or raped or horribly battered, most of us will have at least a fleeting moment in which we could easily kill the perpetrator. That's our reptile brain at work. But civilization is, ultimately, about constraining our reptile brains. Handing the right to kill offenders over to the state was at one time a civilizing step. But we should move beyond that. Justice can be served in other ways.
I don't know if Robert Levy and Susan Levy oppose the death penalty in all cases. But I thank them for speaking as they have against the execution of their daughter's murderer, whomever that turns out to be.