On Sept. 6, 1901, President William McKinley was shot point-blank in a public receiving line by anarchist Leon Czolgosz. McKinley did not initially appear seriously wounded but succumbed to gangrenous organs Sept. 14.
Czolgosz was put on trial Sept. 23 and convicted and sentenced Sept. 26. He died in the electric chair barely a month later.
Contrast that outcome with a phenomenon dominating headlines anew in this correspondent’s home Sunshine State: The sentencing trial for an admittedly troubled Nikolas Cruz, who on Valentine’s Day 2018 entered his Parkland, Florida, high school, systematically executed 17 classmates and staff with a semi-automatic rifle, and wounded 17 others, three critically.
A trial on 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 more of attempted murder was to begin some two years later in January 2020, but was delayed until summer because Cruz’s lawyers said 23 months was “far too fast for them to adequately prepare a defense” in an open-and-shut case, per a local station. Perhaps because the prosecution found it necessary to identify “at least 1,000 witnesses” and compile “about 4 million pages of evidence, photos, videos, and social media posts, and much more” – even though Cruz had confessed, on video, to the murders.
COVID delayed the trial further until ultimately, in October 2021, three-and-one-half years after the shootings, Cruz pled guilty to all counts. Eight months later, a jury was seated for the sentencing trial. And still this week, 54 months after the bloodbath, the defense is calling expert and other witnesses on Cruz’s difficult upbringing, mental capacity and potential emotional illness, though he fell outside the legal definition of insanity.
Does anyone doubt that if all 12 jurors somehow manage to agree on a death sentence for at least one count, years of appeals will ensue? After all, legal maneuverings persist for convicted Boston Marathon terrorist bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev close to a decade after he and his brother murdered three and injured 280 others, even after the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated his death sentence.
Meanwhile, other recent heinous killings fill broadcast air: The abduction and slaying of kindergarten teacher Elizabeth Fletcher in Memphis. The follow-on “livestream massacre” of four, also in the Bluff City. The bizarre Las Vegas stabbing of investigative journalist Jeff German by a corrupt county administrator.
All sharing something in common with the McKinley, Parkland and Boston homicides: seemingly damning evidence. DNA – sufficient in Fletcher’s assault to connect the perp to a prior-year kidnapping and rape. Vehicles. And video, including shootings recorded on social media.
Outrage has followed revelations that the two Memphis suspects were free despite prior convictions. But the concern here is more about what lies ahead: Despite mountains of evidence likely piled upon already compelling forensics, the public will certainly be subjected to, frustrated with, and exhausted by years of process before justice is served.
The American Civil Liberties Union lays out the arguments that render society so skittish about seeking speedy and sure retribution: “Capital punishment is an intolerable denial of civil liberties,” “uncivilized in theory and unfair and inequitable in practice,” and a “barbaric and brutal institution” that “has no public safety benefit” as it “does not deter violent crime.”
Oh yeah? Ya know what’s “an intolerable denial of civil liberties?” Snuffing out innocent life, the premier “unalienable right” the Founders declared to have been “endowed by (our) Creator.”
Ya know what’s “uncivilized,” “barbaric” and “brutal?” Blowing out the brains of defenseless teenaged classmates with a high-powered rifle. Detonating pressure cookers packed with nails, BBs and metal shards that reportedly ripped into spectators, “tearing off victims’ limbs and spattering streets with blood.”
Ambushing a loving teacher and mother out jogging, subjecting her to a yet unrevealed but certainly savage demise, callously discarding her apparently unclothed body exposed in tall grass, then refusing to tell police where she lay. Cruising around bragging profanely, in racist language, on livestream, about a killing spree and then graphically recording the slaughter. Bushwhacking and viciously stabbing, multiple times, a courageous journalist who exposed a betrayal of the public’s trust and then clumsily attempting to hide a goofy disguise.
And ya think non-enforcement of the death penalty might explain why it “does not deter violent crime?” Given that some 320,000 murders or non-negligent homicides occurred between 2000 and 2019 but only 942 executions (less than 0.3%)? That the murder toll exceeded 24,000 in 2020, while death sentences dropped to just 18? That there are 2,414 prisoners currently on death row, but just 22 executions so far this year (under 1%)? And that appeals in one slam-dunk murder case have lasted longer than the lifespan of an 8-year-old victim, and a sentencing trial twice the stretch from Leon Czolgosz’s arraignment to his execution?
To restore a sane civil order in the face of murder madness, to protect the right to innocent life and the pursuit of happiness, and most of all to promote virtue over violence and cruelty, America must find its way to fixing its broken justice system. Society must restore the presumption that justice, while blind and aboveboard, is once again swift, certain and where appropriate, severe.
Bob Maistros is a messaging and communications strategist, crisis specialist and former political speechwriter. He can be reached at email@example.com.