WASHINGTON, D.C. -- My opposition to the death penalty is weakening. I have opposed the death penalty after being persuaded that it contributes to the culture of death that leaves many aspects of our wondrously free and prosperous society quite grim. Nihilism informs our arts. It is a large element in popular culture. It makes fugitive appearances in our discussions of the beginnings and the ends of life. By opposing capital punishment, I have hoped to highlight the glory of life and the vast possibilities for human beings to grow and develop in a civilized way. Now that I have heard the testimony of Dennis Rader, the hyena who from the early 1970s killed at least 10 defenseless people by ambush in their homes, I am not so sure the death penalty always contributes to the culture of death. A noose for this stupid brute might actually be a celebration of life.
Moreover, a seasoned prosecutor of sex offenses made a surprising observation to me. When I said that for Rader to spend the rest of his life in prison was a severe, if wholly justified, punishment, my prosecutor friend quipped, "He might like it." She went on to say that sex offenders and homicidal sex offenders such as Rader have very perverted tastes. Some of those tastes can be fulfilled in prisons.
Certainly, Rader's brutal murders accompanied, he admits, by masturbation are repulsive and suggest that he is barely human. His testimony before a judge in a Wichita, Kansas, courtroom confirms as much. In a matter-of-fact tone of voice and with a slightly authoritative demeanor, he responded to the judge's questions and explained serial murders as though they were a slightly specialized activity, but otherwise perfectly normal. He told of how he "trolled" neighborhoods to find his victims. "Potential hits, in my world that's what I called them," he said as he scratched his forehead in a very odd hand action, the back of his thumb doing the work, his palm facing his audience. He is a weak-looking man, but he has large paws. "If one didn't work out, I just moved on to another."