Monday, August 10, 2015

Flawed or biased justice?

American judicial system is not immune from criticism in its failure to be fair across the racial, ethnic and religious lines. As a result, there is a disproportionate amount of African Americans rotting in the US prison systems throughout the country. In the post-9/11 era of hyped tension with the Muslim world, seemingly many Muslims have been harshly punished while convicted criminals of other religious faiths are given much lighter sentences.

Justice is supposed to be color blind and not dictated by one's race or religion. But, sadly, many experts opine that the USA is failing in this litmus test, which preaches the importance of fairness and justice around the globe while simply failing to practice those values inside the country. We are living in an age of information super highways. Sadly, such flawed judicial practices and verdicts present the USA in a very negative light in a world which is getting more connected every moment in the 21st century. Such practices can backfire on us, especially with our own citizens jailed overseas jeopardizing their lives. And it is no small matter for the families of those incarcerated people.

Let's consider, for instance, the death sentence given to Dzhokar, the accomplice to the Boston bomber.

You may recall that Dzhokhar Anzorovich "Jahar" Tsarnaev has been convicted of aiding his older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev in planting bombs at the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. The bombings killed three people.  In spite of being a teenager (when the crime was committed) who was under the spell of his older brother, who was his guardian (in the absence of his parents who lived in Russia) in their adopted homeland in the USA, and without inflicting any harm personally to anyone -  simply being an accomplice who seemingly knew the crime of his brother and accompanied him in that tragic event of April, he was found guilty on all counts by the jury and sentenced to death. Lest we forget  during his trial, many of the victims' families opposed death sentence against him, and he was in a state (MA) where death penalty has been ruled unconstitutional (with capital punishment abolished in 1984), and yet, the jury had no moral bites to find him guilty unanimously and the judge sentence him to death.

Well, now compare Jahar's crime, which many judicial experts have described as unduly harsh, to that of James Holmes who is a mass murderer (by text book definition).   James Holmes killed 12 people and wounded 70 more at an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater in 2012. The shooting occurred during a midnight showing of a Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises," when Holmes burst into the theater through a rear door and opened fire.

Like other patrons on July 19, 2012, Holmes walked into the theater No. 9 of Century Aurora 16 Multiplex Theater. He then walked out a rear door, which he left propped open. Just after midnight, about 18 minutes into the movie, he returned wearing a ballistic helmet, a gas mask, black gloves and protective gear for his legs, throat and groin. A tear gas canister exploded in the theater, then gunfire rained from an AR-15 rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun and at least one .40-caliber handgun.

In the shooting, Holmes bought a ticket to see the Batman movie 12 days prior to the assault. He colored his hair orange-red, rigged his apartment with explosives, dressed in tactical gear and sprayed bullets into the theater under a cloak of darkness and tear gas. Holmes fled after the shooting but he was arrested in the parking lot outside the theater about seven minutes after the first 911 calls were made to police.

He planned the event and executed his plan meticulously. And yet, he was spared of the death sentence and will spend the rest of his life in prison for killing.

Why such a lighter sentence for a worse killer - a mass murderer and a terrorist who carried out his evil in such a large scale?

A jury was unable  to reach a unanimous sentencing verdict last Friday, which results in life in prison without parole instead of the death penalty for Holmes, who had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity in the 2012 shootings. He was convicted last month of 24 counts of first-degree murder -- two for each of the slain victims.

CNN reports that the 12-member jury reached a decision after deliberating almost seven hours since late Thursday. As they walked back into the courtroom shortly after 5 p.m. (7 p.m. ET), they made no eye contact with anyone. Some had a grim face. Some were ashen.

Holmes stood with his hands in his pockets as Judge Carlos Samour read the sentencing verdicts.
One female juror later told reporters that there was no way to resolve the disagreement on what the sentence should be.

    "There was one firm holdout against the death penalty and two ... who were on the fence," said the juror, who would not give her name. "I don't know if they could have been swayed or not."

    She said the graphic nature of the evidence made the 15-week trial very difficult. She called it a life-changing experience.

    As the judge read on, several people in the area where family members and survivors had been sitting heeded the judge's prior admonition and left the courtroom instead of reacting emotionally.
    The same jury earlier convicted 27-year-old Holmes for the capital murder of 12 people.
    They were: Jonathan Blunk, 26; Alexander Boik, 18; Jesse E. Childress, 29; Gordon Cowden, 51; Ghawi, 24; John Thomas Larimer, 27; Matthew McQuinn, 27; Micayla Medek, 23; Veronica Moser-Sullivan, 6; Alex M. Sullivan, 27; Alexander C. Teves, 24; Rebecca Ann Wingo, 32.

    Holmes admitted to his crimes and had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. But the jury rejected that defense in July, convicting him of a total of 165 counts, including the 24 charges of first-degree murder.

    The jury also convicted him of attempted murder in the wounding of 70 more people.

    DA believes he failed

    Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler told reporters outside the courthouse that he respects the outcome, even if he disagrees with it. "As frustrated as I am at not achieving the result we wanted, those jurors did a hell of a job," he said. "I am disappointed at the outcome, I'm not disappointed with the system. I still think death is justice for what that guy did but the system said otherwise." Brauchler said it was his fault that he couldn't get a death penalty result for the families.
    Holmes' parents declined to speak to the media but issued a statement through an attorney.

    Robert Sullivan, grandfather of victim Veronica Moser Sullivan, found it hard to accept the jury's decision. "That's not justice," he said angrily. "He's living, he's breathing. Our loved ones are gone."

    Lest I be misunderstood, I have no tolerance for crimes and criminals. But I believe that justice ought to be color blind and fair across the board without which we set the very mechanism that may bring more harm than good to our society.
    You can read the full text of the CNN report by clicking here.

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