In sentencing for a murder, survivors' testimony is dubious

A source for the April 13 article about the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, "Testimony from 9/11 victims: How much is fair?," thinks jurors need to "get a true sense ... of ... how much suffering" Mr. Moussaoui's crime caused. She's right about jurors' ignorance, wrong in her conclusion.

Victims' survivors and specialists in "complicated mourning" know something that jurors, and people who kill, do not. The effects of every homicide on victims' survivors are far more extreme than we imagine. The emotional, spiritual, psychological, relational, and medical consequences can be enormous. Some may linger for a lifetime.

Testimony about such wounding is profoundly disturbing. Those who underfund victims' programs and crime-preventing social services should hear it. Jurors should not. Like them, the one who decided to kill had but an inkling of the appalling harm a murder causes, so why judge him for unintended consequences? The same effects follow even a barroom manslaughter, but they're presented as if they help show that - among many who have murdered - the one on trial is among the few deserving the ultimate penalty. And rather than considering society's sentencing standards, jurors are asked to vindicate the survivors' unspeakable suffering by choosing the most serious penalty.

All the penalties for murder reflect its seriousness. A particular sentence should depend on how the crime was committed, how the perpetrator came to be one who could kill, and his/her damning and redeeming qualities. Telling jurors the supposedly unique effects of a particular murder misleads them and floods them with emotion, when they should be making the soberest of decisions.
Michael Goldstein
Alameda, Calif.

Insightful portrayal of a teen hijabi

The April 12 article, "A teen hijabi comes of age," explains why so many Americans appreciate the Monitor. Regardless of race or religion, your insightful articles are generally accurate and impartial.

The story about Sarah Ismail is a case in point. As an American Muslim with five hijabi sisters, I felt that Sarah could easily have been mistaken for one of my sisters. Her modest dress code, strong belief in God, commitment to her education, compassion for her parents, and love of her Americanism - including the freedoms of expression and tolerance - all remind me of the ordinary young American Muslim females of today.

Thank you for sharing with the world how Muslims can also be Americans.
Nader Khalaf
Albuquerque, N.M.

Not much change in China

In response to the April 7 article "Misreading China: It's time to move beyond old stereotypes": Maybe looking at China through old stereotypes is the most accurate thing to do. It is a country of mystery: It has capitalism under a Communist party, the world's fourth largest economy with roughly $6,000 GDP per capita, and there is openness in a repressed society.

Having lived in China for more than nine years, I was beginning to believe China was loosening its repressive measures against its people, until China persistently practiced censorship of information - especially that found on the Internet - amid economic growth and prosperity. The government's stubbornness has convinced me to believe that China has not changed much from the past century.
Peter Jong Woo Jeong
Guangzhou, China

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