The next Pam Basu trial

July 02, 1993

The life sentence meted out Tuesday to Bernard Eric Miller for the Sept. 8 murder of Pam Basu was entirely appropriate given the brutal nature of the crime. Dr. Basu was dragged to her death after being forced from her BMW at an intersection near her home in Savage; repercussions of the crime were felt nationwide and prompted state and federal officials to toughen carjacking laws.

Miller faced a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole. But he was protected from the death penalty because he was only 16 at the time. That is not the situation for Miller's co-defendant, 27-year-old Rodney Eugene Soloman of Washington, who, prosecutors say, instigated the crime. The state has already announced its intention to seek the death penalty for Mr. Soloman when his trial begins in August.

The horrific nature of the Basu slaying, which unsettled motorists across the country, made it almost inevitable the Howard County state's attorney's office would demand the ultimate penalty.

Dr. Basu was the final victim of what prosecutors called a "reign of terror" that began with two attempted carjackings and climaxed when the 34-year-old research chemist was dragged for about two miles to her death after she became tangled in the seat belt of the family's BMW as her 22-month-old daughter sat in the back seat. Miller callously tossed the child out of the car shortly afterward.

The heinousness of these acts is indisputable. Yet The Evening Sun has consistently maintained that capital punishment is never an appropriate penalty in a humane society.

The fact that in cases like this one the death penalty may look like the only satisfactory response to society's collective moral outrage and primitive desire for revenge in no way alters its fundamental character as a barbarous throwback that has no place in a civilized nation.

The United States remains virtually alone among Western countries in retaining capital punishment, despite overwhelming evidence that it does not deter crime, that it is impossible to administer in a racially non-discriminatory manner and that its application is arbitrary, capricious and inimical to the values of an enlightened community. Cases like this one offer an excellent example of the kind of crime where the state has a moral obligation to demonstrate its respect for the sanctity of life even when that means refusing to take the life of someone who has shown utter contempt for the lives of others.

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