Opponents of the death penalty argue that requiring someone to serve life in prison is worse than death. Death-penalty supporters snarkily respond: "Then why do prisoners spend years trying to avoid the death penalty?" The death penalty, say its supporters, is worse than life in prison.
How then do you explain the outrage over Ken Lay's death? Sobriety was never attached to Ken Lay's trial and conviction, with a publication like Forbes writing:
With his death from a massive heart attack on Wednesday, Ken Lay cheated justice. And then some. Not only will the Enron founder not end his days in prison, but according to legal precedent, his entire case will be erased from the records.
Ken Lay is dead. Isn't death a worse punishment than life in prison? Why then are even sober people like Forbes writers so outraged?
Perhaps the editors of Forbes also oppose the death penalty. But I know from conversations with many pro-death people that they, too, were upset that Ken Lay cheated his punishment. How is this consistent? Shouldn't they be pleased the vile Ken Lay (who, in truth, was an innocent man) is dead? Perhaps the religious would believe that God fulfilled his promise that "Vengeance is mine."
Of course, the people who are both pro-death and anti-Ken Lay's death, are consistent. They are consistent because the death penalty and imprisonment serve similar goals - vengeance. Ultimately the need for vengeance moves all forms of criminal punishment. Whether the state is imprisoning a man, or killing him, vengeance is king.