You’re probably wondering why I’m thinking about this. I got HBO NOW to watch the last season of Game of Thrones. Along the way, I’ve been watching HBO’s crime documentaries. I’m currently on The Cheshire Murders.
The title refers to the home invasion murder of three people in 2007 in Cheshire, Connecticut. Here’s as quick of a rundown as I can offer, though I recommend reading the Wiki page for details:
Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky invaded the Petit household on July 23, 2007. It was an attempted robbery. Hayes took wife and mother Jennifer Hawke-Petit to the bank to withdraw $15,000 from her line of credit. Jennifer informed the teller of what was going on.
Somehow, things tragically escalated. Komisarjevsky raped 11-year-old daughter, Michaela, Hayes also raped and killed Jennifer upon returning to the home, and the two criminals burned the house down, taking the lives of Jennifer, Michaela, and another daughter, Hayley, with it. The husband, William Petit, escaped.
What I just typed doesn’t begin to tell the whole story. There’s the issue of police response, two criminals with extensive rap sheets, and Komisarjevsky’s reasoning for targeting the Petits.
(Note: The Petits were chosen for the robbery after Komisarjevsky saw the Jennifer and Michaela at a store, subsequently following them home. The thinking is his interest in robbing the house was more so tied to his interest in Michaela.)
Rape, including rape of a child? Arson? Murder? My first reaction was that Hayes and Komisarjevsky deserve to feel the same pain and die.
But then Hayes’ attorney said something fascinating: Hayes preferred the death penalty. That’s when it hit me: for him, death wasn’t suffering. It was an escape.
We rarely think of death that way. We aren’t subjected to spending life behind bars. We don’t have our literal survival directly tested everyday, losing access to the outside world as it moves on without us, mulling over our choices with no chance of redemption.
It’s permanently being deleted from the world yet still having to live in it. There’s no escape, no hope. Death does seem like a better option than jail.
But if you’re the family and friends of the Petits, or just me, watching this, you want death. Hayes and Komisarjevsky took lives and need to pay for it with their own. It fixes nothing, but we don’t care. We’re incensed.
And yet, when one of the murderers is asking to die, I wonder if a life sentence (with no parole, obviously) is the real suffering the worst of the worst deserve. Death ends it. A life sentence forces these men to wake up every day in hell on earth, a hell of their own making.
Hayes and Komisarjevsky were sentenced to death, but the state abolished the death penalty. Instead, the two now have life without parole. William Petit is understandably furious. Oddly, Hayes perhaps feels the same way. Death would ironically show him a level of mercy he didn’t show the Petit family.
We think of losing life as the worse possible outcome. Because for us, living full lives, having the opportunity to make something of it, it would be. But there may be something worse than that: losing life while still having to live it.