Joshua Komisarjevsky and the Death Penalty: Justice served?

December 12, 2011

Political Theory


This past Friday, jurors in the triple-murder case involving a Connecticut family handed over a death sentence for the main perpetrator, Joshua Komisarjevsky. For those of you who may not know, back in 2007, Komisarjevsky and his accomplice, Steven Hayes, sexually assaulted and murdered Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters, Michaela and Hayley, after their original plan of burglarizing the home went terribly wrong. Without going into the grizzly details, this case was particularly disturbing, given the way in which the horrific night played out and the casual, almost comical, manner in which the two criminals approached the situation. Hayes was sentenced to death last year, while the decision to put Komisarjevsky to death was slightly more controversial. Komisarjevsky’s defense team claimed that he was practically set-up for a life of crime. Supposedly, Komisarjevsky suffered from mental illness, addiction and sexual abuse as a child. The defense looked to these factors to try and limit Komisarjevsky’s sentence to life in prison, however, the jury was not convinced.

 

In regard to the jury’s decision, the sole survivor of the crime, Dr. William Petit, said he “felt a sense of peace…there is never complete closure when you lose your wife and family…but the first part is over and we think justice has been served” (ABC News). The defense, on the other hand, argued that they could not have been given a fair trial, given the outrage over the horrendous crime. The defense even described the decision as “so barbaric it puts us in the categories of countries like Yemen, Iraq, Iran and Texas” (ABC News). While this may seem like a special case because of the way in which the murders were carried out, this decision to put Komisarjevsky to death has raised several issues that I believe relates to the concept of justice that we have discussed in class.

 

Martin Luther King Jr. argued that justice, for him, was ensuring that a law applied to all and that no one as an exception. Given his concept of justice, I do not believe that MLK Jr. would agree with the death sentence in this case. His idea of justice would not be “an eye for an eye,” but it would be fairness before the law; some people should not be sentenced to death, while others spend the rest of their lives in jail. In his practice of civil disobedience, it is almost as if MLK would practice the concept of “being the bigger person” and not engaging in retaliatory violence that was brought down upon many civil rights activists at the time. However, do I personally agree with this? In the case of Komisarjevsky, absolutely not. I am not one who believes in revenge and I believe that a more severe punishment for murders would be suffering for the rest of your life in jail. However, I believe this is a special instance and Komisarjevsky should be put to death.

 

People can argue that Komisarjevsky was mentally ill and that his insanity would be enough to spare him the death penalty. While I agree that someone must be severely sick in the head to commit the crimes he did, why should this man deserve to live? This was a horrific and disgusting crime, probably one of the most gruesome that I have ever came across, and I do not believe someone that messed up deserves to be given the right to exist. I am not endorsing the death penalty entirely, because I believe it truly ranges from case to case and I would not necessarily agree with it in other murder cases. But, I think the only way that justice could be served in this case was for Komisarjevsky to receive the death penalty, and if Dr. Petit felt that justice was served, I certainly believe it was as well. As Petit’s sister, Johanna Petit Chapman, said “I think they delivered the right verdict. It’s not blood lust or revenge as some may say…from the very beginning we thought Mr. Komisarjevsky was the leader” (ABC News).

 

This is a very controversial issue and I understand that many of you will have a wide range of opinions on the case, and with correct reasoning. But, I am interested in what you have to say about this. Was justice served in this case? Do you believe that MLK’s concept of justice should have been applied in this case, meaning the jury should have given him a life sentence instead? What is the criteria that a jury should look to in order to condemn someone to death? How has the definition of justice changed over time, and are we more “just” now than we were in the past?

 

Citation:

Dorning, Anne-Marie. “Joshua Komisarjevsky’s Death Sentence Gives Massacre Survivor Peace.” ABC News. 9 Dec 2011. http://abcnews.com/US/josua- Komisarjevsky-sentenced-death-connecticut-home-invasion/story?id=15097270

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3 Comments on “Joshua Komisarjevsky and the Death Penalty: Justice served?”

  1. maddycaroline Says:

    In many cases, I am a supporter of the death penalty. While some people may argue that a life in prison for a criminal is worse (for them) then their death, I argue that certain criminals, who have committed horrific acts of violence, need not live on this earth any longer. I know that many people don’t agree with me on this, but in cases such as this it really is an ‘eye for an eye’; since this person brutally killed 3 people, no matter what the reason be, not even death will bring justice but its as close as one can get. However, whether it be because of my beliefs or not, I do not think that Martin Luther King Jr’s ideas on justice can apply. In my view, Martin Luther King Jr. was talking about justice in the form of social justice, for those who were being treated (morally) unfairly. Social justice for those who have done nothing wrong, except be born into a culture where acceptance is not always available, is incomparable to criminal justice. Social justice does not deal with criminal activity, and in fact as Martin Luther King Jr. argues, no form of violence should be involved in the bringing of social justice. What Komisarjevsky did is in every way inexcusable in our society and even though justice can never be fully served, staying alive (even if in prison) doesn’t seem fair in the wake of his actions.

    I do not believe that all murders should be put to death, depending on the situation that lead to their actions. I think that the death penalty should be given to those who have murdered knowingly, willingly, without remorse and in a horrific way. In the past, some people were put to death based more so on the color of their skin, or what culture they came from so in that aspect our justice system is more just than in the past, especially when it comes to criminals. However, there are still morally evil people living in our society so in the sense of the individual things have not changed much. Either way, I believe that Komisarjevsky got what he deserved. Criminal justice can never really be achieved like social justice can, especially when it comes to criminals who have taken the lives of others.

    • elotis Says:

      I completely agree with you when you say that criminal justice is never quite the same as social justice. I think many people confuse the two and are quick to say that the death penalty is wrong. In this instance, there was no race or class issue; this was outright torture and murder. I 100 percent agree with you that this man does not deserve to live.

  2. hannahlevitt Says:

    I strongly disagree with the death penalty for reasons I need not get into. However, I do believe that this case is a good example of fairness through the law. Regardless of what the law is, the question is whether or not the punishment fits the crime. Therefore, despite the ranging opinions on whether the death penalty is right or wrong, the law as it currently stands incorporates the death penalty and therefore when we are examining cases in terms of fairness before the law, we must look at it more objectively.
    In this case, I would argue (and I’m sure many would agree) that the crime committed was one of the most severe. Not only did these two men take the lives of three innocent human beings, but they did so in a brutal way, yet the way they went about it was very casual. They demonstrated complete disregard for human life, and disrespected it in horrific ways. Therefore, the crime is of upmost severity.
    The most severe punishment for criminals that is available in Connecticut is the death penalty. The crime that was committed was of the highest level of severity and brutality, and therefore under the law, the most severe punishment fits the most severe crime. In this case, that means the death penalty, so I agree with the ruling as I believe MLK would because it exercises justice under the law.

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