For some two weeks now, two dangerous convicted murderers have roamed at large in upstate New York or parts beyond. Richard Matt and David Sweat managed a brilliantly planned and executed escape from the maximum security Clinton Correctional Facility that has utterly confounded state authorities.
At this writing, the legions of police and investigators employed on the case -- estimated to be at least 800 personnel -- remain clueless as to even the general location and route of the escaped duo. The cost of this massive recapture operation is undoubtedly enormous, but New York authorities are understandably unenthusiastic about revealing the multi-millions involved. At the federal level, the U.S. Marshals Service has added the duo to the list of America's Most Wanted.
New York's liberal Democratic Governor, Andrew Cuomo, has taken a highly visible and active role in the state's response, although he possesses no apparent qualifications or experience that would make any genuine contribution to the locate-and-retrieval operation. The fugitive-hunting skills of a liberal New York lawyer-politician are not to be confused with those of Dog the Bounty Hunter, or Lieutenant Girard in pursuit of Dr. Richard Kimble. Cuomo would have done better to stay at his desk in Albany and leave the recapture operation to the cops and marshals, as those officers would undoubtedly confirm under grant of immunity.
Cuomo should leave fugitive-hunting to The Hunters
Media pundits have debated whether Governor Cuomo has helped or hurt himself politically by assuming such a high-profile role in the escape crisis. Some say it has provided a useful distraction from the more pedestrian and banal political bickering with the state legislature, making the governor appear (however falsely) preoccupied with more pressing matters of public safety. Others note, in contrast, that the governor may appear out of his element in purporting to spearhead an operation that is best left in the hands of law enforcement and investigative operatives -- especially if the search drags on in futility or, even worse, the escapees commit further murders or crimes of violence.
But Cuomo may have a more profound and personal motivation for his obviously intense and anxious involvement in the matter. He may reluctantly recognize that the serious civic danger and disruption posed by the escape, and any deaths, injuries, or other harms that may yet result from it, may be attributable to the legal and policy predilections so zealously espoused by himself and his liberal cohorts. Even if Cuomo does not come to that recognition -- and being a doctrinaire liberal, such a recognition is most unlikely -- Splashing Rocks will do it for him.
One of Cuomo's responses to the crisis was to order an investigation by the state inspector general into "all factors" that were involved in the escape. As Cuomo explained, "It is critically important to examine the circumstances that enabled these inmates to escape in the first place."
But Cuomo could save himself and the state much unnecessary investigative cost and effort by acknowledging one decisive "factor" that indisputably allowed these murderers to escape and endanger the citizens of upstate New York and beyond.
If Cuomo and his liberal ilk had not so effectively destroyed the state's ability to impose the death penalty, the two escapees would have been far too dead to escape from prison or anywhere else.
Both Matt and Sweat were imprisoned for murders that would have been eligible for the death penalty under the Supreme Court's interpretations of the Eighth Amendment's cruel and unusual punishment clause. Richard Matt cruelly tortured his victim in an automobile trunk before murdering him and dismembering his body. David Sweat murdered a law enforcement officer in cold blood.
Both of these murders thus included "aggravating circumstances" that would have subjected these men to capital punishment in a state that permits it. But New York does not allow capital punishment -- thanks in large part to leftist officials, legislators, and lawyers like Andrew Cuomo. If New York did authorize and enforce the death penalty, Matt and Sweat would have never had the opportunity to escape from prison, endanger the safety and security of thousands of people, force the costly deployment and diversion of at least 800 police officers, and possibly commit additional murders or other violent felonies while at large.
Andrew Cuomo has long been adamantly opposed to the death penalty and has made it a major policy point in his political career. For example, he wrote a NY Times op-ed piece in 2004 urging the New York legislature to reject efforts to enact an enforceable death penalty (the N.Y. death penalty statute that technically lingered on the books had been declared unconstitutional and unenforceable). Among other canards and distortions in his article, Cuomo stated that "there remains no evidence that the death penalty is a deterrent to crime." Cuomo's statement is simply false, and the escape of the Dannemora murderers aptly demonstrates why.
Cuomo either ignores, or doesn't understand, that there are two kinds of deterrence, specific and general. Specific deterrence simply means that an executed person is absolutely and specifically "deterred" from committing any more murders or other crimes. This is not some jesuitical or theoretical point, but an entirely valid and practical justification for capital punishment in itself.
Nor, as emphatically proven by the Dannemora breakout and others preceding it, is life imprisonment an effective alternative in that respect. Both Matt and Sweatt are free to commit murder or other crimes because their life imprisonment, even in a maximum security facility, was inadequate to prevent their determined escape. And their case is hardly unique. The escape of the notorious Mecklenburg Six death row inmates from a maximum security Virginia prison in 1984 is another prime example that capital punishment provides the only certain form of specific deterrence.
When a state surrenders the option of executing the likes of, say, Hannibal Lecter, it requires some poor prison personnel to guard, feed, and provide medical care to such a menacing and dangerous monster. And it runs the risk that such a monster may escape and resume his murderous career.
Cuomo's arrogant dismissal of the death penalty's deterrent effect is especially and demonstrably fallacious in the case of escaped inmates who are serving life sentences without possibility of parole. Because Cuomo and his liberal cohorts have succeeded in completely excluding resort to the death penalty in New York, there is little, if any, reason for escapees like Matt and Sweat to fear meaningful additional punishment should they commit additional murders or other serious crimes while at large. They could sneer at their captors, "What are you gonna do, send me to life imprisonment at Dannemora? LOL, suckers!"
That is the consequence of New York's abandonment of the "general deterrence" provided by the death penalty, wholly apart from its abandonment of capital punishment's utility as a specific and foolproof deterrent as to murderers who are actually executed. Not all potential murderers are deterred by the prospect of being executed by the state -- fanatics and lunatics, for example -- but most are. It is simple, inescapable logic that the more severe a penalty, the greater its deterrent effect; our whole system of escalating punishments calibrated to the severity of the crime is based upon this logic. And execution is the ultimate penalty. If murderers did not fear execution more than life imprisonment, they would not desperately pursue every possible legal avenue to avoid execution in favor of life imprisonment.
So when death penalty abolitionists like Cuomo argue that there is "no evidence that the death penalty is a deterrent," they are perpetrating a massive fraud. They are glibly and dishonestly equating the valid point that the death penalty is an imperfect deterrent with the fraudulent myth that it has no deterrent effect at all. And the danger, expense, and disruption occasioned by the Great Escape from Dannemora is but one example of the cost to society occasioned by the "success" of Cuomo and his fellow liberals in depriving New York of any resort to the death penalty -- even when it would be demonstrably just and efficacious.
That the New York escapees were serving mere terms of imprisonment -- with the now indisputable potential for escape and further crime -- rather than rendered conclusively harmless and "deterred" following a capital sentence and execution is both morally and legally outrageous. Mr. Matt was not only a recidivist murderer -- one in the U.S. and one in Mexico -- but the murder for which he was serving time in New York was an especially heinous torture-murder that cried out for capital retribution. As New York prosecutor Joseph Mordino (a veteran of over 200 murder cases) told a Niagara County judge: "Of all the cases I've tried this would top my list for the death penalty." David Sweat was guilty of the first degree murder of a law enforcement officer in the course of committing another felony, which would have resulted in certain capital punishment in a saner state, like, say, Texas.
So Governor Cuomo should spare us his hand-wringing concern regarding what went wrong to allow the escape of the Dannemora Duo and the resultant danger, disruption, and enormous expenditure of public funds and law enforcement resources. What went wrong was New York's ill-considered, illogical, and emotional abandonment of the death penalty, due in large part to the fanatical advocacy of Governor Cuomo and his ilk. Had New York retained and enforced even a narrowly circumscribed death penalty, Messrs. Matt and Sweat would be dead and buried, rather than roaming the country at large and posing a threat to public safety wherever they arrive.