Here’s an interesting issue for the pro-death penalty crowd: If killing violent offenders passes as justice, are they happy when a violent offender kills himself? That’s the question being bandied about the blogosphere in the wake of Philip Markoff’s apparent suicide.

Markoff was in jail awaiting trial as the “Craigslist Killer.” He allegedly murdered Julissa Brisman after meeting her on Craigslist.

Over on Sentencing Law and Policy (gavel bang: WSJ Law Blog), Ohio State law professor Douglas Berman makes an interesting point:

[A]ssuming he was guilty, my first reaction here is to be pleased. By killing himself, Markoff saved a lot of time, money and energy for those who would be tasked with prosecuting and defending him. And the family of his victim would, I hope, get some measure of closure from Markoff’s death.

Actually, the family of the victim does not seem at all pleased by Markoff’s apparent suicide…

As a person opposed to the death penalty, I can’t claim to know what motivates society to respond to death with more death. But whatever the aims, it does seem that the death of the criminal alone is not tantamount to “justice.” The Boston Globe reports that the victim’s family is upset over Markoff’s apparent suicide:

Brisman’s mother, Carmen Guzman, was too upset to speak yesterday, said her Boston attorney, who released a statement on behalf of the family.

“Their grief for Julissa is as fresh today as the day over a year ago when Markoff took Julissa away from them,’’ said the statement from the lawyer, Djuna Perkins. “The long-awaited criminal prosecution was their only opportunity to confront him, and now he has taken that away, as well.’’…

“With the criminal prosecution foreclosed, the family will be exploring other avenues to seek justice for Julissa and help ensure that others do not suffer from such devastating, unnecessary violence,’’ according to the family’s statement.

I can’t imagine what, if anything, gives a mother closure when her daughter is brutally taken from her.

But from a public policy standpoint, is there more justice when the state is intimately involved in the death of a criminal, as opposed to the criminal taking matters into his own hands? Does the death of a criminal have more value somehow if the state gets its hands dirty in the process? Is the death penalty anything more than legalized revenge killing?

For what it’s worth, I’m disappointed that Markoff took his own life. I don’t like it when criminals get to choose death; it’s the easy way out. But I think it’s strange if, as Prof. Berman suggests, there are pro-death penalty people who are in any way unhappy with today’s developments.

The criminal is now dead. Isn’t this what we want when we allow death sentences in the first place?

Should we be pleased or frustrated when an accused murderer commits suicide while in custody? [Sentencing Law and Policy]
What to Make of the Philip Markoff Suicide? [WSJ Law Blog]
Markoff an apparent suicide [Boston Globe]


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