Did the punishment fit the crime?

This video is one account of John Allen Muhammad execution. Scroll down this page for a slightly more explicit witness report. Related videos on YouTube are being watched a great deal. Because you approve, you’re outraged, or just interested?

41 Responses to “Did the punishment fit the crime?”

  1. 1 Bob in Queensland
    November 11, 2009 at 13:16

    I find all these eyewitness accounts (and I’ve only followed the BBC links, not gone digging) more than a little disturbing. I can’t help but think of the baying audiences around the guillotine or at Tyburn. Surely we should have moved on from that.

    Further though, I’m concerned that the US legal system seems to be driven by populist revenge rather than protecting society. For a Gulf War veteran to kill 10 strangers is a sign of sickness, not a crime.

  2. 2 steve
    November 11, 2009 at 13:48

    The punishment would have fit the crime had he been executed 10 times. Hence I don’t think the death penalty in this case is justice, because it simply wasn’t enough. This man would hide in the tru nk of his car, and shoot random people going about doing their business. All in the area I grew up in. Shutting your eyes and going to sleep while strapped to a table is a bit more pleasant than sitting on a bench in Aspen Hill, MD and being shot in the head by a sniper. While I generally don’t support hte death penalty, I’m not that upset in this case about it, and I thank God this isn’t europe, where he would have been released after 20-25 years.

  3. 3 steve
    November 11, 2009 at 13:51

    @ Bob

    So the manner in which he did it, modifying a car, utilizing a kid to aid him (was the kid committing a crime, given he didn’t fight in the gulf war?) and killing random people, terrorizing an entire region? Are you suggesting society is not safer now that he is dead? I don’t think he’s going to be able to snipe more innocent people now. People can and do escape from prison and kill more people. The man was pure evil, not “sick”. Maybe if you lived here, you’d understand.

  4. 4 patti in cape coral
    November 11, 2009 at 13:54

    I’m not for the death penalty. If the judicial system made a mistake, there is no way to take it back. If we are subscribing to “an eye for an eye”, then the punishment fit the crime, but I don’t believe in that.

  5. 5 gary
    November 11, 2009 at 14:16

    I do not condone capital punishment. My objections are independent of its putative crime prevention or punitive values. More to your question, no punishment fits any crime. It didn’t when I was forced to stay in my room after using a hammer to test the strength of a glass tail light lens on my father’s truck (I was four years old, it failed the test, and I gained valuable information.) and it still doesn’t for any crime.

  6. 6 Nick Reid
    November 11, 2009 at 14:26

    The mental illness excuse almost always falls short. Especially in a case like Mr. Muhammad’s.

    I’m a U.S. military veteran, and so are many, many hundreds of thousands or millions of other Americans. We do our military job, some of us after having been drafted, and after our service we get on with it. If we need help, we can get help. Mr. Muhammad was not drafted, he volunteered. If he had psychological problems (which I doubt) he could have sought help, but didn’t. He was a murderer and society is better served with him not consuming any more of our tax dollars.

    I think your apparent attitude toward the death penalty is ill considered. Don’t feel sorry for the lion that is occasionally killed by the zebra. The lion is the predator.

  7. 7 Roberto
    November 11, 2009 at 14:48

    RE “” For a Gulf War veteran to kill 10 strangers is a sign of sickness, not a crime. “”

    ————– More broadly, for humanity to kill hundreds of millions of “strangers” in tens of thousands of years of bloody conflicts and wars could be said a sign of sickness, perhaps a genetic disorder within humanity.

    Some credibly counter that these are crimes against humanity, so who is qualified to draw the boundary between crime and sickness? How are nation states, different cultures, different peoples to protect themselves from being overwhelmed and exterminated by murderous aggressors.

    To the point of Mr. Muhammad who went off the rail whilst the remains of the 9/11 attacks still lay smoldering, the death penalty was made for this type whose killings were undisputed and compounded by his use of an innocent minor to carry out the crimes.

    In an ideal world where the greater populace held honest, productive jobs that yielded adequate taxes that sustained an honourable criminal justice system where inmates were all properly repentant and peaceful, where rehabilitation staff outnumbered armed guards, perhaps Mr. Muhammad could be dealt with.

    The world has never had such a system and never will. My only complaint about the above report is that execution by drugs is proven to be unreliable, inhumane, and very costly among a host of problems. A three man firing squad is proven to be as humane as a person can be put to death, instantaneous, and highly cost efficient.

  8. November 11, 2009 at 15:24

    It would appear that in America, they kill those that they don’t like. Whether they be colleagues at an army base, schoolmates, criminals or merely random citizens.

    What a poor example to set.

  9. November 11, 2009 at 15:26

    (PS. My earlier comment was deliberately facetious – I don’t really think that’s the done thing in America)

  10. 10 Dennis Junior
    November 11, 2009 at 16:03

    Yes, the punishment fits the crime; But, I would have loved to see it happen many times over!!!!

    =Dennis Junior=

  11. 11 Ibrahim in UK
    November 11, 2009 at 16:32

    One murderer gets the death sentence, another gets life imprisonment:

    In this situation of the German attacker, where the crime took place in a courtroom witnessed by everyone, judge jury and police, would there still be disagreement over using the death penalty? (German law permitting)

  12. November 11, 2009 at 17:20

    If a person is sentenced to death it probably does not matter much whether it is by firing squad, hanging, or whatever. The difficult part for the condemned person is surely the waiting, the anticipation.

    It is not good for society to model violence as a response to real damage, the damage is multiplied when the wrong person is executed, it is multiplied many more times when criminal justice system officials object to appeals ‘because we already have somebody to blame for this crime,’ and it does not even make sense economically. It would be better to study these people, even make them be available to legitimate researchers. Just make sure they can’t escape.

  13. 13 John in Salem
    November 11, 2009 at 17:53

    The oldest part of our brains, the seat of our emotions, is also where our “inner child” lives, the one who pulls our strings and makes us respond emotionally when we shouldn’t. It’s an over-indulgent, self-centered little monster that will do anything to get it’s way and it’s always trying to force the reasoning part of our brains to abandon logic and rationalize bad decisions, like eating things we know we shouldn’t or hitting someone who has offended us.
    And in this case it’s using the concept of justice to rationalize revenge. We know from overwhelming evidence that capital punishment does not work as a deterrent. We know from genetic forensics that a percentage of those being executed are innocent and that execution not only means that someone who might have been innocent is dead, it also precludes us from knowing that the actual killer still walks among us.
    This man was clearly guilty beyond a reasonable doubt but what is being satisfied is revenge, not justice.
    The little monster wins again.

  14. 14 Joel Salomon
    November 11, 2009 at 17:54

    (from New York)
     If one disagrees with the death penalty in general, this case is no exception. If one agrees that capital punishment has its proper place in the judicial system, John Allen Muhammad was the perfect case for it to apply.
     Why are we discussing this?

  15. 15 duckpocket
    November 11, 2009 at 18:16

    If murdering is barbaric, so is murdering murderers.

    • 16 Jennifer
      November 12, 2009 at 15:20

      So, what do you want to do with them? Rehabilitate them? No, they make the choice to take innocent life and they should be held accountable for that.

  16. 17 Anthony
    November 11, 2009 at 18:24

    They should have thrown him in a cell alone, and just not fed him or given him water, until he died. I think that would be more fitting, and it would make others think twice. He had a pretty easy death.

    -Anthony, LA, CA

    November 11, 2009 at 18:35

    I would have liked to hear what this man would have to say for the sake of curiosity. I do not approve of his deviant behaviour but I think this was clearly a sick mind.If you wanted a firearms license in my country you would be very much scrutinized and chances are that you may not even get it most of the time even if you are mentally sound. What bothers me is that during recruitment for the forces, such spsychological vetting is laxed and that is when such creeps get legally into perfection of use of firearms like in this case and in the recent shootout at Fort Hood much to our horror leave alone the many criminals in the uniformed forces.
    We may not know whether he was punished himself because he may have been having suicidal traits as well but this action only satisfys the requirements of the legal process and justice to the grieving families. Otherwise why do they recur?

  18. 19 Elias
    November 11, 2009 at 18:37

    If he was sane, yes the punishment fit the crime, however if it was proven beyond all shadow of doubt that he was insane, then regretably ‘NO’, he should have been sent to an insane asylum and kept there indefinitely, which would have been costly to the State. In conclusion they took the cheap way out.

    November 11, 2009 at 18:54

    He needed to be hanged because he obviously knew the consequences given that he was part of a disciplined force. It would have been absurd to let him go scot free though I feel other measures nee to be examined. Part of psychology of some of us is still in the primitive human animal ara. It is hard to know why exactly some people cannot find peace even if you take them to heaven.

  20. 21 Tom K in Mpls
    November 11, 2009 at 19:18

    To me, the death ‘penalty’ is a release from the true punishment which is a future with no hope of freedom. Also death can be a money saving method when you have someone that is determined to never be able to become a safe and productive citizen again.

  21. 22 jens
    November 11, 2009 at 20:26


    Death row is NOT CHEAP……in fact on average it is cheaper to lock somebody up for life.

  22. 23 Carbo
    November 11, 2009 at 22:30

    Hi WHYSayers.

    It appears to be an incontrovertible decision: he was guilty of the crimes committed against humanity. Therefore his humane execution “fit the crime”: the perpetrator was removed from society and the victims (living ones) acted in a non-revengeful way.

  23. 24 Kat in Vancouver
    November 11, 2009 at 23:31

    As as an American, I fully believe that the death penalty should be outlawed on the grounds of human rights and justice. The eye for an eye argument always falls short as a justice system should not be founded on the basis of revenge. I think that this event is nothing but a political grand-standing as most executions are. They are nothing but political propaganda.

  24. November 12, 2009 at 07:57

    I do not have an answer to the question posed.
    I have read or heard the question being discussed and debated many times by
    intelligent people putting forward the same arguments for and against based on emotion,logic, statistics, religion and so forth including my own. All ended without a
    consensus. It may be that , as suggested by two posters above, namely, that ” “Other measures be examined” considering “the primitive nature of the human animal” which could maybe use psychoanalytical techniques.
    It would appear that the intelligence of existing humans may not as yet have reached the necessary level for that.

  25. 26 Solomon S. Buyco
    November 12, 2009 at 10:41

    I have read somewhere that Muhammad staged the whole set-up to kill his wife and can return to his children normally as if innocent of the killings… As for his accomplish? Dead man tell no tale… I would conclude.

  26. 27 Ibrahim in UK
    November 12, 2009 at 10:51

    If the death penalty is barbaric and a form of revenge, then what are the alternatives?
    If life imprisonment without hope of freedom is a worse punishment, then isn’t that still revenge?
    Rehabilitation? Is that an option?

  27. 28 NSC London
    November 12, 2009 at 13:36

    All of this “mental illness” debate is a bit silly – this was a terrorist attack, both assailants are well documented to be Muslim and to have produced extensive writing and imagery about their desire to wage jihad. So, can we please drop the “mental illness” nonsense.

    Regarding “revenge” I see no reason why revenge shouldn’t be an integral component of the justice system. As an American currently living in the UK I find it interesting to observe the negative effects weak sentencing is having on Britain. This doesn’t automatically mean I support capital punishment (actually, I haven’t decided) but to say that revenge has no place in society is naive EU Human Rights/Criminal’s Charter hyper-liberalism.

  28. 29 chris
    November 12, 2009 at 13:38

    I don’t think the punishment fit the crime, but what can you do? You can only kill someone once.

  29. 30 Dan in Massachusetts
    November 12, 2009 at 14:03

    I am completely in favor of capital punishment, provided certain safeguards are in place (more than one eyewitness, DNA evidence, mandatory appeals process). Murderers remove themselves from society and should no longer be part of it. They cannot be rehabilitated because, unlike thieves, they cannot return to their victim(s) what was taken from them. As an aside, this is why I also believe that child predators should be executed.

    My only complaint is that lethal injection is FAR too humane. The convicted should not be tortured to death, but neither should their death be completely painless. Death by hanging should be the form of execution used, as it is sufficiently horrible enough to provide some level of deterrent.

  30. 31 Jennifer
    November 12, 2009 at 15:19

    Yes, this man was guilty of murdering innocent people!

  31. 32 John in Salem
    November 12, 2009 at 16:29

    Life without the possibility of parole is something we do for the protection of society when the convicted is deemed beyond rehabilitation.
    But it is a kind of living death, so how about if we give them a choice – we put the prisoner in a room with a .45 and one bullet. If he still claims innocence then a life sentence means a possibility of exoneration if he doesn’t use the bullet. If there is no dispute of guilt he can use it and opt out of serving his sentence.

  32. 33 Kat in Vancouver
    November 12, 2009 at 18:10

    Simply put revenge is not justice. The death penalty is an act of revenge and is not justice. Justice is about holding people to account for their crimes under the weight of law. In order to argue that the death penalty is just you then have to agree that the courts, judges, and lawyers (justice system) are perfect.

    As an American living in Canada, I do not hold the negative and popular view that sentencing does not fit the crime or that they have weaker sentencing. Do you want the justice system to torture people, to maim, and kill people wither they are innocent or not? Is that how the victims want their justice?

    You have to ask yourself, would you trust a justice system that holds revenge as a legitimate motivation and societal value with YOUR fate? I am sorry I just don’t trust the government or the justice system enough in any country.

  33. 34 pattin in cape coral
    November 12, 2009 at 19:01

    @ Kat – I totally agree. There are people who have said I feel this way because my children have never been raped, and none of my loved ones have been murdered (actually two of my relatives were murdered), but there are many examples of people whose loved ones were murdered and they still opposed the death penalty. Putting aside all the other “mushy” stuff, I oppose it because the judicial system is not fail-proof and a life taken cannot be given back.

  34. 35 Nick Reid
    November 12, 2009 at 22:19

    Let’s not lose sight of the fact that the question is about this crime. Not the death penalty in general.

    If you oppose capital punishment then this case is no different than another…. and you’re not going to agree that the punishment fit the crime.

    I disagree with this logic. This world is not idyllic, it is violent and ultimately the individual or group that is prepared to impose its will on the others that violate the common safety and security are the ones that get to live productively and in relative peace and security. Muhammad violated the rules, and society inflicted the punishment through law. Capital punishment is still favored by a wide majority in the US.

    Having said all that, I’m glad that there are dreamers and warm-hearted individuals, that probably over time, move the societies towards the goal of a less violent world. But that time is not now…. or the foreseeable future.

  35. 36 Kat in Vancouver
    November 13, 2009 at 17:37

    Well – to rebut your argument, the punishment is the death penalty in this case. And the question is listed as such: Does the punishment fit the crime? I have argued no because punishment is the expression of justice. There are more logic models that pre-date the rather barbaric christian notion of an eye for an eye which is that appears to be the logic in the US.

    In order to answer that question you have to interrogate the idea of what values do we want expressed in a justice system. It has been said that those who hold “idyllic{ values are in the minority by your unfounded assessment. Consider, the world outside of the US – to what ends do the countries in Europe, Canada, UK administer justice? Are they in some way less than the US which is where I think that you are going with your argument. Typical.

    • 37 Nick Reid
      November 13, 2009 at 19:10

      Reply to Kat:

      You argue that “punishment is the expression of justice”. In the US 2 out of 3 people believe that killing the killer is justice. I agree also.

      It is true that the 2 out of 3 statistic assumes the certainty of guilt. In the case of Muhammad there exists a very high degree of certainty that he stalked other humans in a modified auto to shoot them dead like a sniper.

      You argue that “There are more logic models that pre-date the rather barbaric christian notion of an eye for an eye which is that appears to be the logic in the US”. The Islamic, Christian, and Jewish faiths all acknowledge the teaching of an eye-for-an-eye sense of justice as recorded historically by both oral and written tradition for some 3 – 5 thousand years. The Islamic, Christian, and Jewish faiths account for about 3.7 billion people on our planet. Or about 1 in 2 people worldwide.

      My point is that if a society chooses to incarcerate a killer rather than to kill them, fine. I have no sense of disdain for other societies’ sense of justice when the majority of its people agree with that law. But don’t accuse the US of subscribing to some aberrant and minority behavior. First, it’s not supported by the facts, and second, it sounds to me that your insinuation is that the US administration of justice is less than that of Europe, Canada, and the UK. That’s where I think your argument is going.

  36. 38 Kat in Vancouver
    November 13, 2009 at 20:45

    Challenging arguments – however religion does not only determine the values and norms associated with justice. What about the separation between church and state? Laws are based on ideas outside of Christianity or religion – for example Aristotle is the first to suggest a concept of justice and this concept is used to inform legislation and dominates the legal system.

    In the US, how do you account for the states that do not have the death penalty – 13/50 states do not have a death penalty statutes. Other countries who have capital punishment according to Wikipedia and Amnesty International, include: Saudi Arabia, China, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, North Korea etc.

    The United States is the only country in the West to have the death penalty. Is having the death penalty something to be proud of? Would you trust a jury of your peers to decide your case if you are charged with a crime?

  37. 39 Nick Reid
    November 16, 2009 at 19:47


    Again I’d like to say that my support of the death penalty should be viewed in the context of the Muhammad case.

    But since you did ask a couple of direct questions in your last comment I will say that:

    US states that do not use the death penalty are exercising their right within the federal system to decide the punishment for murder in their state. That’s fine with me. If I lived in one of those states I would vote in favor of capital punishment should the question be put to a ballot. When there is certainty as to the guilt of the individual who commits murder like Mr. Muhammad I believe they have forfeited their right to life.

    Am I proud of the death penalty? No. Not at all. But just like war, I think it is necessary given the kinds of people that we share this planet with, like a Hitler or Mr. Muhammad.

    As far as trusting the jury system to never make mistakes, no, I know mistakes are made. I would not condemn anyone when the case is solely based on circumstantial evidence. But there are many cases where the identity of the killer is not in question. If I were on the jury for a case like that, it would not be difficult for me to vote for the death penalty.

  38. 40 Kat in Vancouver
    November 16, 2009 at 19:58

    Okay your positions are pretty clear Nick. Thanks for the good debate. Cheers!

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