When mass shooters die, some feel OK with no trial
Newtown, Conn. — Through his death in a gun battle with police, the Orlando nightclub gunman deprived his victims’ families of the chance for a trial that could have helped to channel grief, offer a sense of justice or provide answers for the bloodshed.
But some touched by other mass shootings in which the killers have died say they are grateful to be spared the extended, emotionally grueling legal proceedings of the kind that have added to publicity for killers like the Aurora, Colorado, theater shooter.
In Newtown, where the gunman took his own life after killing 26 people inside Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, Scarlett Lewis said his survival only would have made it more difficult as she grieved for her murdered 6-year-old son, Jesse.
“I’ve always felt grateful that our shooter killed himself because you don’t have to deal with that, you don’t have to deal with the media coverage of a trial and all that pain,” Lewis said.
The man who killed 12 people when he opened fire inside a suburban Denver movie theater in July 2012 pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, subjecting the victims’ families to a four-month trial that ended with his conviction on 165 counts. He was sentenced in August to life in prison without parole.
One of the family members who regularly attended the trial, Tom Sullivan, said there were difficult moments, including an encounter with the defendant’s parents at a courthouse cafeteria. But he said he was glad to hear the accounts of witnesses who described the final hours of the life of his son, Alex.
“I’m thankful we had a trial. I’m thankful I got to hear all the stories,” Sullivan said. “We got a lot of answers to questions that we wouldn’t have gotten.”
For Caren Teves, the trial was “agony.”
She attended the trial every day except for the birthday of her slain son, also named Alex, out of a sense of duty to him and the other victims. It was such an ordeal she would have preferred if the shooter didn’t make it out of the theater alive.
“It was agonizing to just sit there every day and seeing that individual sit there pretty much smugly,” she said. “It was very difficult.”
Studies indicate killers survive in roughly half of U.S. mass shootings. Adam Lankford, a criminal justice professor at the University of Alabama, said his review of 185 shootings between 1966 and 2010 in which a person targeted victims in a confined, populated area found that of the shooters who died, about 80 percent killed themselves and 20 percent were killed by police.
Chavis Crosby, of Statesville, North Carolina, his emotions still raw from the deaths last weekend of 49 victims in Orlando, including his brother, said the shooter did not deserve to live on for a trial.
“Me personally, as far as the killer, I’m glad he didn’t make it out neither,” said Crosby, who lost his 25-year-old brother Tevin Eugene Crosby. “He took all those lives. He deserves the same thing.”
The Orlando attack has some parallels to the December 2015 shooting by a married couple in San Bernardino, California, that killed 14 people. In each case, the killers pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group and died in shootouts with police. Authorities have not ruled out the possibility that others could be charged in the continuing investigation into the Orlando shooting.
Jennifer Thalasinos, whose husband was killed in San Bernardino, said it has been easier knowing there would not be a trial for the killers.
“I don’t need an explanation to why they did it. They did it because they were evil and full of hate and hated America,” said Thalasinos, who gleaned from a coroner’s report that it was the male shooter, Syed Rizwan Farook, who killed her husband, Nicholas. “The fact I don’t have to look at his face or deal with him is great.”
Mandy Pifer, whose boyfriend, Shannon Johnson, was killed in the shooting, said she feels safer knowing Farook is dead. Still, she would have liked to see his reaction in court when her boyfriend’s name was mentioned.
“I don’t think Shannon was a specific target at all,” she said, “but I like to think Syed felt a little bad about shooting someone who was nothing but kind to him.”
Pifer said she also finds herself looking forward to the trial of Enrique Marquez Jr., a longtime friend of Farook who bought the rifles used in the attack and has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and providing material support to terrorists.
There is a desire, she said, to see somebody held responsible.