Across the Universe: ‘Til death do us part in America |

Across the Universe: ‘Til death do us part in America

This past Friday, two pieces of major national news came across the wires. Both involve death — and boy, the subject matter for each couldn’t be more different.

First, I found myself marveling at the speed of the social commentary that came after a federal jury decreed the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

I’m no fan of capital punishment. I base that opinion on two methods of reasoning:

1. I feel it’s an easy way out for a convicted murderer, and that it would be a worse punishment to have to think about your actions for the rest of your life, while locked up and getting only an hour of exercise a day.

2. It’s a lot more expensive to sentence someone to death than life in prison without parole.

Here’s some information according to the New York Times: “With death sentences, an appeal is all but inevitable, and the process generally takes years if not decades to play out. Of the 80 federal defendants sentenced to death since 1988, only three, including Timothy J. McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, have been executed. Most cases are still tied up in appeal. In the rest, the sentences were vacated or the defendants died or committed suicide.”

Keep in mind, Tsarnaev’s case is federal, and not state.

Speaking of state, let’s look at California. As Sun columnist Jim Porter wrote of last year, a not-too-long-ago Los Angeles Times study found that California execution cases, when all costs are considered, cost an average of $250 million each — with an average delay from conviction to execution of 20 years.

According to a fact sheet from the Death Penalty Information Center (, cases without the death penalty cost $740,000 on average, while cases where the death penalty is sought cost $1.26 million. Maintaining each death row prisoner costs taxpayers $90,000 more per year than a prisoner in general population.

Interestingly enough, according to a recent poll released by WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station, if given the choice, 62 percent of Boston voters said they would sentence Tsarnaev to life with no parole, while 27 percent preferred death. By the way, as a point of information, Massachusetts abolished the death penalty in 1984.

With all that said, it seems like a good potential exists for Tsarnaev (should he appeal, of course) to wait years, if not many years, before the jury’s decision of justice is carried out, and the cost to taxpayers could climb considerably higher than if he got a life sentence without parole.

Adding all that context, herein lies America’s barometric issue in terms of morality: Is this man’s crime enough to go against the proverbial grain?

I don’t believe it is.


The other piece of news Friday, while sad, carries a considerably different tone.

The three kings of music are now playing among the stars. First Elvis, then Michael Jackson — and now, the King of Blues, BB King, who died Friday at the age of 89.

As I’ve written before, I’ve for years lived by this motto: “If laughter is the best medicine, then music is the best painkiller.”

Folks, BB King always gave me the best high.

I’m only 31 years old, and I get a decent amount of flack from people these days on how I don’t listen to new music. For the most part, my musical preference lies in what stuns me from the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, with blues and rock ’n roll topping the list.

BB King’s jams, whether they were doldrums-laced or ones that inspired laughter, were incredible licks of music that set the foundation for countless musicians who came after the King of Blues had already established so much.

Simply put, nothing “new” will ever compare to what’s already been done.

My favorite lyric I’ve heard BB belt: “I bought you a ten-dollar dinner, but you said thanks for the snack.”

Bye bye, BB — and thank you for so much more than that.

Kevin MacMillan is managing editor of the Sierra Sun; he may be reached for comment at

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