Jared Lee Loughner, who killed six people and injured thirteen others (including then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords) last year near Tucson, cut a deal yesterday: By agreeing to plead guilty to perpetrating the massacre, federal prosecutors in return spared the 23-year-old from the death penalty.
But why would Eric Holder’s Justice Department agree to this? Loughner clearly had no leverage, and a conviction was never in doubt. He was even arrested at the scene of the crime, where police found the weapon used in the crime and multiple eyewitnesses.
Perhaps the prosecutors have a philosophical opposition to the death penalty. (Though they could have accounted for this by neglecting to seek it in a trial.) Or, as several press accounts indicate, they may have wished to spare the victims from having to relive that terrible day by testifying. Or this might just be another example of our legal system’s addiction to plea-bargaining— some 90 percent of criminal cases are now resolved through plea-bargains rather than trials by jury. Or, perhaps, the prosecution mistook an admission of guilt for an expression of remorse.
There may be legitimate justifications for sparing Loughner’s life. His sanity at the time that he committed his heinous crime, for example, is an open question. Yet there is something disquieting about this resolution. The mere act of pleading guilty should not be sufficient reason for a man who took six lives (and shattered countless others) to be spared his own.