According to a notice of intent from the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, federal prosecutors will seek the death penalty for Robert Bowers, the 46-year-old suspect of the mass shooting of eleven people at the Tree of Life synagogue last year. The gunman has pleaded not guilty, which is undoubtedly one of the reasons that the prosecutors are opting for the most severe punishment.
Although the death penalty is certainly defensible for this horrific crime, National Review reports that several Tree of Life congregants have said they wish the shooter “to face life imprisonment rather than the death penalty.”
Congregation Dor Hadash actually wrote a letter to Attorney General Barr. In it, they explain (via CBS Pittsburgh):
“We believe that the elimination of a trial and publicity for the shooter serves the interest of our congregation, as well as the general public. A plea bargain for life without parole will prevent this individual from getting the attention and publicity that would inevitably come with a trial.”
While that may be true, there is more at stake here, of course. Yes, Bowers undoubtedly wants attention, but that doesn’t mean that justice shouldn’t be carried out. It could very well be argued that life in jail is letting him off the hook. What’s more, since Bowers clearly is an anti-Semite, life in prison will only allow him to join forces with other anti-Semites currently in jail. I have no doubt that this monster of a man is considered something of a hero among imprisoned neo-Nazis.
Of course, this doesn’t negate criticism of those who are against the death penalty out of principle. Some of these opponents argue that the death penalty is about revenge rather than justice (nonsense, of course; at least it’s not more about revenge than any other punishment). Others say that they simply don’t trust the government with the power to kill its own people (I sympathize with this position myself). However, even those critics of the death penalty would have to agree that if ever an exception could be made, it’s for the perpetrator of this horrendous crime.