Invariably when there is a heinous crime resulting in death, I hear from readers and acquaintances who know my stand on capital punishment, and they tend to have one question:
"If anyone deserves the death penalty, don't you think he (or she) does?"
That's the query I got about the drug hoodlums who kidnapped a teenage Arlington, Texas, girl in the 1990s — because of something her older brother had reportedly done — took her to Arkansas, tortured her and then buried her alive.
I got the same question after the Oklahoma City bombing, numerous mass shootings and a host of child sexual assaults and murders.
And for almost four years now, it is the one thing I've been asked most regarding the shooting at Fort Hood in 2009 that killed 13 and wounded 32.
Often I respond by saying that if anyone deserves the death penalty, the perpetrator of that crime does. But keep in mind I don't think anybody "deserves" to be executed, because I don't believe that any state or government should be empowered to administer capital punishment.
But when it comes to the Fort Hood rampage my argument goes beyond my opposition to the death penalty, as I see an execution as granting the wish of the gunman and playing into the hands of terrorists around the world, perhaps helping to recruit more extremists to their ranks.
Maj. Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, has been charged with those crimes and, in effect, has admitted to them. In his opening statement for the trial this month, he declared, "The evidence will clearly show that I am the shooter."
He was not permitted to plead guilty because this is a capital case seeking the death penalty. Ideally, it would be great if he had entered a plea — saving the expense and trauma of a trial — was given a life sentence and was forgotten about.
Hasan, who was wounded and paralyzed when police responding to the shooting returned fire, has already made a mockery of the case by his insistence on representing himself, his refusal to shave his beard and his original proposed defense of fighting to protect others, namely the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan from U S. soldiers about to be deployed to the war.
At one point leading up to the long-delayed trial, there was a fear that Hasan would cause undue pain for some of the victims by cross-examining them, or that he would break into long diatribes to articulate his extreme Islamic views.
But since the trial began Hasan has been basically quiet, causing the attorneys assigned to assist in his case to request lesser roles because they think he is working in concert with the prosecution in an effort to receive the death penalty.
As I've said all along, such a sentence, if carried out, would make him a martyr, a hero to anti-American extremists. He could become a poster boy for terrorist recruiters who would use his deadly deeds as an example of something to model.
It therefore did not surprise me when I read The New York Times account of statements Hasan gave to mental health experts a year after the shooting. He told that panel that he wanted to be killed in the attack to achieve martyrdom, the newspaper reported.
"However," he said, "if I died by lethal injection I would still be a martyr."
Make no mistake, I don't want to see this man executed if found guilty, as I make no exceptions to opposing the death penalty — not for Timothy McVeigh, Saddam Hussein or John Allen Muhammad.
But the last thing this country needs, and certainly the one thing I would think the victims and victims' families would not want, is for the person who afflicted so much pain and destruction to somehow receive honor in death.
Bob Ray Sanders is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Readers may write to him at: 400 W. 7th Street, Fort Worth, Texas 76102, or via email at bobraystar-telegram.com.