Sister Helen Prejean, the Roman Catholic nun who has made her career campaigning against capital punishment and ministering to those on death row, spent five visits with Boston bomber Dzhokar Tsarnaev and testified that he had “sympathy for his victims.” Despite evidence to the contrary revealed during the trial at which the killer sat impassively, registering no emotion at the anguish of victims and their families, Sister Helen sensed pain in Tsarnaev’s voice and could feel his sincerity when he said that “no one deserves to suffer like they did.” The question, as Hillary Clinton famously said, is what difference does it make?
Sister Helen’s objection to capital punishment presumably isn’t limited to the possibility of wrongful conviction; in this case, the defense admits that their client is the right man, the killer of three and the maimer of 264 other victims whose lives will remain forever changed by the physical damage and trauma caused by his treacherous deeds. Tsarnaev, of course, is a Muslim whose allegiances remain with those who have murdered 10,000 Christians in Indonesia alone from 1998 - 2003 and whose victims keep growing with daily massacres of non-Muslims in North Africa and the Middle East. So we have a killer who continues to hold his religious beliefs and has never denied that he was one of the two people who prepared and detonated the nail-studded bombs intended to kill and mutilate the people of Boston. Had Tsarnaev not expressed what Sister Helen calls “regret,” would he be less deserving of her support? Did she visit him five times in order to be sure that she heard those gratuitous and self-serving words?
If capital punishment is wrong because the state should never have the right to take anyone’s life, no visits were necessary and Sister Helen could have phoned in her position without dignifying a terrorist with her holy presence. The notion that a cursory admission of regret should ever be sufficient to modify the appropriate sentence is an affront to the suffering of all those innocent victims and to how we, as a law-abiding society, view the concept of justice. One family of victims whose son was murdered argued against the death penalty for a far more moving reason - to allow themselves the peace of getting on with their lives without being subjected to painful reminders with repeated appeals that will be submitted on behalf of the killer. That is unfortunately a part of our justice system that sacrifices the victim to the rights of the criminal.
If Sister Helen’s position is that only God can take a life and that God loves us all - victims and sinners alike - then perhaps she needs to be reminded of that bromidic message from Eric Segal’s “Love Story” - that ”love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Sister Helen could have rendered her service to the defense with one visit and not tarnished her reputation by pretending to be a better judge than the jury and all the people who witnessed this trial as to the callous indifference of an unrepentant jihadist assassin. Her testimony as to Tsarnaev’s regret diminishes the other valid reasons that people may hold for their opposition to capital punishment.
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