The execution of the Washington area sniper, John Allen Muhammad, on Nov. 10 was attended by the families of Muhammad’s apparently random victims. As scholars and theologians continue to examine the moral, religious and societal implications of capital punishment, there is significant debate over whether the act does anything to comfort the victims of such violence.
Muhammad’s death sentence was appealed all the way to the U.S Supreme Court, which refused to hear it just before hearing arguments on a case that affects Muhammad’s first victim, Lee Boyd Malvo, the 16-year-old in search of a father figure who was trained, disciplined and taught to take aim at innocent, unsuspecting civilians as an act of divine warfare.
Currently before the court is whether juveniles found guilty of criminal acts (rape, homicide, severe aggravated assault and battery) can be sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.
As the confirmed triggerman on at least four of the murders, Malvo’s case may seem to many to merit such a sentence. There seems to be a legal consensus around life sentences for murder, but in some states, the cases vary widely. District attorneys, often feeling societal pressure to “get tough on crime,” have pushed for judicial power to try minors as adults or at least have the power to convey the same sentence for “adult crimes.”
Florida currently has 77 of the more than 100 prisoners serving life while tried and sentenced as minors. The state solicitor general recently told NPR, “We have [had] a serious crime problem in Florida over the years, so in our view that justifies the stiff penalties that have been assessed.”
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