A couple of weeks ago Boston commemorated the second anniversary of the terrorist bombing of the Boston Marathon. The wounds of those who died and suffered serious injuries that day -- not to mention the psychic wounds suffered by the city at this beloved annual event -- are still fresh.
By the time of the second anniversary, the two brothers arrested for the crime had already been found guilty of various heinous crimes. The only question that remained was whether or not Dzhokhar Tsarnaev would face the death penalty for planning and carrying out the attack.
A lot of attention was paid when the family of a Boston Marathon victim came out and said Tsarnaev should not face the ultimate punishment. That made for an interesting story with elements of leniency, forgiveness, even redemption.
But many Americans -- and certainly large numbers of Irish Catholics, whose church opposes the death penalty, and of which there are plenty in the greater Boston area -- believe criminals such as Tsarnaev should face death.
Capital punishment remains a wrenching topic in American culture. What is less well-known is that a federal judge whose parents were born in Ireland has played a profound role in the direction of the debate over the death penalty in the U.S.
Federal District Judge Cormac J. Carney plies his judicial trade 3,000 miles from Boston, in California. Less than a year ago, in a closely watched case, Carney issued a harsh ruling related to how the death penalty was used in California, which has more than 700 inmates currently serving on death row.
“The dysfunctional administration of California’s death penalty system has resulted, and will continue to result, in an inordinate and unpredictable period of delay preceding (the prison inmates’) actual execution,” Carney wrote.
“Indeed, for most, systemic delay has made their execution so unlikely that the death sentence carefully and deliberately imposed by the jury has been quietly transformed into one no rational jury or legislature could ever impose: life in prison, with the remote possibility of death. As for the random few for whom execution does become a reality, they will have languished for so long on death row that their execution will serve no retributive or deterrent purpose and will be arbitrary.”
State prosecutors are appealing Carney’s ruling, which found the state’s application unconstitutional. But for many, such rulings might ultimately lead to a nationwide abolition of the death penalty, which many other countries have already adopted.
Who is this troublemaking judge, Cormac Carney?
As a 2010 profile in the magazine The Federal Lawyer noted, “The son of doctors who had emigrated from Ireland in the 1950s, Judge Carney was born in Detroit. His parents eventually moved him and his three siblings to Long Beach, California where Judge Carney was raised.”
Lest Carney be dismissed as a mushy-headed, soft-on-crime coddler of violent felons, he was actually appointed by Republican George W. Bush.
“After serving on the state bench for barely a year, Judge Carney was tapped for the federal bench by President George W. Bush, who nominated the judge in early 2003. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved his nomination unanimously, and the Senate confirmed the appointment on April 7, 2003. Only 43 years old at the time, Judge Carney was one of the youngest judges ever selected to sit as a district judge,” according to The Federal Lawyer.
It must be said that Carney’s forceful critique of California’s death penalty may simply lead to changes in how capital punishment is enforced. Still, the question of the death penalty is a pressing one for Irish Catholics.
Back in March, Pope Francis issued his own latest forceful denunciation of the death penalty.
“Today the death penalty is inadmissible, no matter how serious the crime committed," Francis wrote to the president of the International Commission Against the Death Penalty. The Pope added that capital punishment "contradicts God's plan for man and society" and "does not render justice to the victims, but rather fosters vengeance."
Even after the Boston Marathon case, it could be Cormac Carney’s opinion that shapes the future of the death penalty in the U.S.*Contact “Sidewalks” at tdeignan.blogspot.com.