Killing Demario Atwater won't bring Eve Carson back.
But it might make a lot of people feel better.
Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall has decided that the 22-year-old defendant deserves to die for the murder of the 22-year-old UNC Chapel Hill student body president. And really, if Atwater is found guilty of the heinous crime, who would not agree that the punishment fits?
Carson, who loved to dance and mentored others, was mourned by thousands. Besides capital murder, Atwater has been indicted on charges of armed robbery, kidnapping, larceny and possession of stolen goods.
Whether or not the death penalty is appropriate in this case sounds like an easy call, though Americans in recent years have shown ambivalence toward this particular way of meting out justice. It has lost, gained and lost support again.
According to a Harris Poll from March, 63 percent of Americans said they supported the death penalty, while 30 percent opposed it. Five years ago, almost seven in ten (69 percent) believed in it, with 22 percent opposed.
In 1965, a Harris Poll found the country more evenly divided on the issue; just under half (47 percent) opposed the death penalty and 38 percent believed in it.
The Supreme Court has changed its mind, as well. Since 1977, when executions resumed after a 10-year moratorium, juveniles (such as Atwater's alleged 17-year-old accomplice Laurence Lovette) and the mentally retarded have been spared.
This year, the court narrowly ruled that the death penalty is unconstitutional as a punishment for child rape.
Everyone supports the idea that the state, representing us, strives to obtain justice for all. How is justice best served, though – by taking a life or putting a guilty person in prison without the possibility of parole?
Arguments on both sides veer from the practical to the religious.
If the death penalty were a deterrent, the United States would have one of the world's lowest murder rates instead of being sandwiched between Bulgaria and Armenia, and well above Western and Asian countries that outlawed it years ago.
My own thoughts have followed that arc – from initial, reluctant support – until gradually I let go of my belief that the death penalty is warranted even for rare, horrible acts.
When evidence sets a death-row inmate free, it's both practical and moral to take a stand against capital punishment. That's not the case when guilt is more certain and the victim is close to your heart.
If my loved one were murdered, my gut would tell me to find the person responsible and exact some old-fashioned, Biblical vengeance, “an eye for an eye.”
Then, I would hope and pray that some other emotion took over, one that rejects legal as well as illegal violence in a world that has always had more than its share of both.
If Atwater is convicted and executed, I'm not sure that we would be any closer to a perfect world.
I do know we will still be mourning the loss of good people whose death will never be explained or avenged.