Rod Dreher links to this story of indescribable evil, which I'll not attempt to describe or even name. Note Dreher's headline for the blog entry. In an update at the end of the entry, Dreher explains:
Let me explain this. I am against the death penalty, not because I believe that murderers have the right to live, but because I don't trust our criminal justice system to determine guilt with unfailing accuracy. (Snip) This case in Modesto, though, was a clear example of a killer carrying out an especially brutal murder, and being caught in the act of so doing. I can't pretend that I'm not more satisfied that the cop had no choice but to take that child-killing monster out than to subdue him some other way. Maybe that makes me a bad person. But I really don't care.
Neither, for that matter, do I. Perhaps this will sound callous, expressive of a contempt for the dignity of life - though I must state that some people have made of 'life' a totem; the telos of existence is not mere bodily life, such that this must be preserved regardless of the moral colour of circumstances, but conformity to the image of God - but I am not interested, not in the slightest, in living in a world in which the most bestial and unmentionable atrocities are not requited with the only punishment proportional to their gravity, but instead become blessed transgressions, occasions for the malefactor to be given a lifelong opportunity to change his mind about the path he walked. This, to my mind, seems to be a utilitarianization of justice, the conversion of the suffering of innocents into an occasion of possible repentance on the part of the malefactor. The evils perpetrated recede, and in its place there stands a "Yes, this was awful, but maybe this will shock him to his senses so that he becomes a better man" sort of attitude. Callousness, I think, is reducing victims to footnotes.
For that matter, while the possibility of the execution of an innocent man troubles me, I don't regard this consideration as very telling. Perhaps this will sound counterintuitive, but if magistrates cannot be expected to do their due diligence in capital cases, withholding the ultimate sanction in cases of doubt, or unclarity of evidence, then how can they be expected to be diligent and just in the prosecution of lesser offenses? If they'll fudge, or make mistakes, when the stakes are highest, they'll make them when the stakes are lower. Those who cannot be faithful in great matters won't be faithful in lesser matters; for if they don't regard important things as important, they won't assign (relatively) unimportant things their due weight, either. It seems to me that the argument against capital punishment is really a skepticism concerning the possibility of justice: because perfect justice is unattainable, proximate justice is a sham as well.
Some people, by their evils, render themselves objects of temporal wrath. The wretch in the story above, had he gone to trial, would have been one of them. And I just don't care. I'm thinking of the precious little world that ended as a result of his evil. I care about that.