An eye for an eye

Reading Time: 2 minutes
Robert Beuker answers questions for students after advocating his retributive perspective on punishment and the death penalty. Jake Buntjer/UVU Review

Steven Hayes was recently deemed unworthy of life on Nov. 8 as he was sentenced to death by a Connecticut jury.

In July of 2007, he broke into the Petit home looking for valuables, proceeded to beat and torture the husband, wife and young daughters for 7 hours and thereafter raped and strangled the wife. All this while his accomplice Joshua Komisarjevsky sexually assaulted the 11-year-old daughter.

They then doused the house with gasoline and lit it on fire with the victims still inside. The husband was the only survivor.

It is impossible not to have an emotional response to this story, with its brutality and disregard for the sanctity of life. Although there is not a unanimous response to how these crimes and those who commit them should be handled, some feel retribution is the answer.

In his presentation “Who Deserves to Die and Why,” Robert Blecker championed a retributivist perspective on the death penalty, believing that the worst of the worst offenders must be severely punished in order to satisfy justice.

“Ultimately it’s about justice and who deserves to die,” said Robert Blecker, professor at New York Law School and advocate for the death penalty. “I feel certain Steven Hayes deserves to die.”

One inherent complication in this argument is coming up with a set of standards for who exactly “deserves” to die. In Blecker’s opinion, it comes down to the level of cruelty. Extremes on the spectrum should be considered for maximum sentencing, including those who take pleasure in their crimes and those who express no feeling or remorse.

Having spent numerous hours in many prisons across the nation for research purposes, Blecker is particularly opposed to the lifestyle some prisoners are allowed to maintain. He objects to offering baseball, volleyball, chess or any other form of amusement.

This is additionally offensive to him because he asserts that the prison population is experiencing more privilege than our innocent poor.

Instead, he introduced the concept of permanent punitive segregation (PPS), wherein inmates would be confined to an isolated room, fed tasteless but nutritious nutraloaf, made to do pointless exercises such as digging holes and filling them back up and keeping photos of their victims within the cell but out of reach to remind them of their egregious crimes.

Although this seems tortuous and severe, Blecker was careful to emphasize the critical distinction between retribution and revenge. Retribution is more the dealing out of just desserts with very directed intent, while revenge is more a non-rational and disproportionate reaction. He purposely disassociates himself from the notion of revenge.

Blecker also claims that support for the death penalty would dramatically decrease if PPS were implemented because the general population would be satisfied with their degree of punishment. Although abolishing the death penalty is not his goal, he seemed to be satisfied with the trade-off that would take place.

For further exposure to Blecker, visit and watch a documentary that features his research and his ideas.

2 thoughts on “An eye for an eye

  1. what a plesure for once to see a story that accurately reports my views. other than the common misspelling of “desserts” rather than “deserts” and misconception that goes with it, your reporter, jessica burnham, did a fine job. i appear often publicly on campuses, et al. the UVU students in attendance were among the best i have encountered — including the young lady who told me to “go back to new york.” she has gotten her wish.

  2. Please forgive my very belated comments on an
    excellent article, as well as Professor Blecker’s
    response, from the perspective of an emotional as well
    rational retributivist and restorativist (these
    perspectives seem to me to go hand in hand). For “the
    worst of the worst,” I find life without parole plus
    labor and restitution — dignified and meaningful
    labor to atone in some small measure for supremely
    dehumanizing acts while assisting crime victims — a
    just and satisfying outcome, as much as there can be
    such in this world after such deeds. This goes for
    Hitler or Eichmann (whose execution in 1962 I
    passionately opposed) as well as the perpetrators of
    the Petit home invasion atrocities. As I very clearly
    understood back in 1962, to “punish” Eichmann by
    having someone who was “just following orders” kill
    him is not retribution, but a surrender to…

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.