The meaning of life

I’ve often said that one of the reasons I support the death penalty is that we need a punishment beyond “life without parole,” otherwise those inmates serving that sentence would literally have nothing to fear from acting however they wish. I cited it in the case of Joseph Druce of Massachusetts, who murdered a pedophile priest while both were in prison. In a stunning display of wasted time, money, and resources, the Commonwealth put Mr. Druce on trial for murder. If he was convicted, he would be automatically sentenced to life without parole. If acquitted, he would be returned to prison to resume his previous sentence of life without parole.

Here in New Hampshire, we almost had a repeat of the Druce case. Currently in the state prison, two men are serving life without parole for murder. Coincidentally, both men are from Nashua and both men killed women in domestic-violence scenarios — Stephen Mann, who killed his wife, stabbed and wounded William Sullivan, who killed his girlfriend’s mother for disapproving of their relationship.

Sullivan survived, but New Hampshire prison officials freely admit what Massachusetts officials wouldn’t acknowledge — that there is literally nothing they can do about it, short of keeping the men separated and imposing some internal discipline on Mann (isolation, loss of privileges, and the like). They will conduct the required investigation and give the results to prosecutors, and there very well may be a trial.

I hope there isn’t. It, like the Druce case, would be a complete and utter waste. Regardless of the results, Mann’s fate will not be altered one whit. Instead, he will be granted a reward of sorts, as he is taken to and from the prison for his trial, tying up much-needed resources on an ultimately pointless exercise that borders on judicial masturbation. Let the prison impose its own sanctions, which will be far more meaningful than a couple of months tacked on to his life without parole sentence.

But there is one crucial element in which New Hampshire differs from Massachusetts: we still have a death penalty on the books. True, it hasn’t been used in 66 years, but it’s there nonetheless. If Mr. Mann is bored of life without parole (he’s 33, and been in prison barely a year so far), he’ll just have to try harder to kill another prisoner. In the meantime, let him get good and acquainted with four walls — and nothing else — for a good, long time. If he can’t play nice with others, then he can’t play at all.

Personally, I think that any inmate serving life without parole can request to be executed after a while — say, five years. I think I’d rather die than spend the rest of my life locked up. But that’s not how the law works.

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  1. Marcus March 14, 2006
  2. epador March 14, 2006
  3. cirby March 14, 2006
  4. Ken McCracken March 15, 2006