But you know what debate seems conspicuously absent? Should we execute James Holmes?
Death-penalty opponents are fairly mercenary about when to express their outrage. When questions of guilt can be muddied in the media; when the facts are old and hard to look up; when the witnesses are dead; when statistics can be deployed to buttress the charge of institutional racism: These are just a few of the times when opponents loudly insist the death penalty must go.
But when the murderer is white or racist or his crimes so incomprehensibly ugly, the anti-death-penalty crowd stays silent. It’s the smart play. If your long-term goal is to abolish the death penalty, you want to pick your cases carefully.
But the simple fact is, if the death penalty is always wrong, it’s wrong in the politically inconvenient cases too.
What's often lost in the death penalty debate is that the criminal justice system is about meting out what is deserved. Some people do, in fact, deserve to die.