Ethics aside, the death penalty is legal. Why don’t we use it?

Creative+Commons

Photo: Creative Commons

Creative Commons

By Sophia Pargas, Living Arts Editor

On Feb. 14, 2018, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School didn’t just gather for a normal day—they gathered for an extraordinary one. 

Luke Hoyer awoke to a Valentine’s Day gift from his mother, which he left on his bed as he rushed out for school. The candy and card would stay there for over a year; he never returned from school to claim them. 

Joaquin Oliver had finally asked the girl he loved to be his girlfriend, and wrote her love letters in his creative writing class—the last he would ever attend. When police collected his body from the hallway, these same letters were found pinned to his jacket, smeared in blood. In trial, his girlfriend shed tears over never having gotten to receive them. 

Nick Dworet spent his last moments celebrating a correct answer in his Jewish History class. His teacher recalled that it was barely seconds later that an AR-15 broke through the doorway, and he was instantly shot and killed at his desk. 

Almost five years after the merciless massacre of 17 students and teachers—and four months into a grueling trial—the gunman who killed Hoyer, Oliver, Dworet and 14 others has been granted life in prison and thus spared from the death penalty. 

This trial should not be a talking point for pro-versus-anti death penalty agendas. It should not be a case of nature versus nurture, or a heroic exemplification of democracy at work. In fact, it should be the very opposite. 

The debate of whether the death penalty is fair could carry on until the end of time. We can sling “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” or “the punishment fits the crime” until our arms fall off, but as long as the sentence remains in place, these opinions remain irrelevant. 

The fact of the matter is that the death penalty is on the table in many states, Florida being one of them. Our justice system proposes death as the ultimate punishment—and there is no person more deserving of the ultimate punishment than Nikolas Cruz. 

The fact that a 19-year-old man can strategically and meticulously calculate the slaying of 17 lives and face anything less than the capital sentence is both unbelievable and downright deplorable. 

During the trial, the prosecution revealed thousands of the gunman’s internet searches inquiring how to carry out mass murder, posts detailing his desires to “make parents suffer,” and videos very clearly outlining his intent to end as many innocent lives in the most gory way possible. It was also revealed that the AR-15 he used to carry out the attack was purchased over a year in advance of the crime, and his intent for the weapon was clear from the beginning. 

In the months, days, and hours leading up to the attack, the gunman plotted his killing spree and anticipated the fame he would garner as a result. He knew what he was doing when he walked into that school. He had a plan, and he fulfilled it. 

All of this information was revealed to a jury of 12 over the course of four months. Most days, the courtroom was filled with friends and family of the victims. Many parents sat through almost every single day of the court proceedings. 

They watched every police testimony, every coroner’s finding, and every victim impact statement. They listened as police described the carnage of the 1200 building, as coroners detailed the disfigurement of the 17, and as fellow families expounded the torment of losing a loved one to such a horrific crime. They watched as the gunman sat, unphased, scribbling on a notepad and fiddling with his mask carelessly day after day. 

Even worse, the families had to sit and silently listen as the man who murdered their loved ones was painted as a victim. The defense argued that the gunman was a product of a broken home, a victim to the tragedies life bestowed upon him. Most of their argument was founded on the fact that the gunman had familial traumas and did not know better than to purchase a weapon, plan a mass murder, and execute it to maximum destruction. 

In truth, the murderer is just another entitled white man who evaded all accountability before, during, and after his crime. He was exempted by the FBI following threats he made online just a month before the shooting, was served McDonalds and arrested peacefully mere hours after carrying out the massacre, and has now been granted mercy despite having earned exactly the opposite.  

In the wake of the decision, death penalty debate arises once more. Some say death is the only just punishment and anything less is a failure of our system. Others say life in prison is the ultimate sentence—a seal on the gunman’s fate of a miserable, tormented existence. 

But the killer has not been stripped of any chance at happiness. He can find joy in the sunlight, in sound sleep or peaceful dreams, in pages of books or scenes of movies, in the very fact that he has yet another day of life to spend, and another one after, and after again. 

This is more than any one of his victims can say. The gunman may be behind bars, but the victims’ loved ones are the ones who are truly suffering for his offenses. The gunman will live out his life knowing he got away with the best possible outcome: another shot at a life he took from so many. 

This decision should cause outrage, uproar, and unrest. The murderer’s presence on this earth is a reminder that evil exists, and there are faulty systems which need to be revolutionized not only to prevent such crimes from happening, but to universalize punishments for such criminals. 

Because this is exactly what happened. Countless systems failed the victims time and time again, crumbling under the pressure of addressing real, imminent danger in our society. 

Law enforcement ignored violent and erratic behavior throughout the gunman’s entire life, despite a long history of calls from friends and family. The Florida Department of Children and Families concluded he was not a risk to himself or others just two years before the attack despite the previous threats he made online. The FBI failed to follow proper protocol after recieving a tip revealing the murderer’s online comment, “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.” They failed again just weeks later when they dismissed a person close to the gunman who specifically detailed the gunman’s desire to kill and revealed the likelihood that he would soon conduct a school shooting. 

And now, five years later, yet another system has failed. This is the same system which sentences criminals to death for much less: treason, drug trafficking, espionage, assault and rape. Murderers involving less victims, less gore and less calculation than this gunman have received the death penalty, many of them unshockingly being part of marginalized communities. The justice system picks and chooses who will truly face the capital punishment, thus abandoning all uniformity and actively condoning oppression. 

The death penalty was designed to be the ultimate punishment for the most heinous, unthinkable of crimes, and yet the most heinous, unthinkable criminal has eluded it.

As long as this unjust criminal system is upheld, the death penalty should cease to be viewed as something untouchable and instead be seen as what it is: a legal consequence whose ethical implication is currently irrelevant. If the death penalty will not be used for such a horrific massacre, it should not be used at all. 

To subject families to such a grueling trial only to rule in favor of the murderer is utterly inhumane. The gunman’s sentencing of anything less than the capital sentence is a slap in the face, not only to the victims and their loved ones in Parkland, but to every gun violence victim who has yet to receive justice. 

What our legal system has offered is a challenge and an invitation for the next mass killer to push the boundaries just a little bit more. If this didn’t earn the death penalty, what will? Undoubtedly, it will not be long until someone takes it upon themselves to find out. And even then, our justice system will inevitably fail to put an end to this absurd cycle and stand by the punishment they allow to remain in place.