by ChristinaBlunt

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On September 23, the Chicago Tribune reported that Christopher M. Stevens, the convicted killer of Zachary Snider, has been re-sentenced to life in prison without parole after his death sentence was overturned. Stevens was charged with sexually molesting and murdering 10-year old Snider in 1993. However, in 2007, a federal appeals court set aside the death penalty citing the defense’s insufficient presentation of Stevens’ mental illness. Although it is likely that Stevens would again be sentenced to death, Zachary’s parents have agreed to the life sentence rather than going through another lengthy penalty phase trial in February. In a statement to the court Zachary’s father wrote, “Our family has suffered enough and would like for this to be resolved once and for all… This will give our family finality. Chris Stevens will die in prison and will never have the opportunity to destroy people’s lives again.” The Putnam County Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter added, “With the plea, this case is over. There are no more appeals and the Sniders should never have to deal with Stevens again.”

Capital punishment has long been a contentious debate in the United States. As decades pass each side re-postures their argument to fit with the current cultural climate. In Her article “Contesting the Victim Card: Closure Discourse and Emotion in Death Penalty Rhetoric,” Nancy Berns discusses the emergence and effect of closure discourse on emotion-domain expansion. Berns explains that the idea of closure- which may or may not exist but can hardly be defined- has become prominent in “defining not only victims’ needs but also the broader concept of justice.” She adopts a constructionist approach to death penalty rhetoric identifying the pro- death penalty advocates as well as abolitionists as claimsmakers who strive to expand the boundaries and redefine the problem. In this way the claimsmaker is able to connect to available cultural resources thereby framing the social problem within the larger culture.

Both sides of the capital punishment debate have had some success in manipulating closure discourse to this end.  For pro-death penalty camps the argument is death of the killer is necessary for the victims’ families to move on. According to Berns, “The closure argument expands the emotion domain of pro death penalty discourse from just killing an offender to closure, healing, and justice for victims’ families.” Thus broadening the scope of individuals potentially persuaded to their camp. The expansion of emotion-domain and the creation of new “feeling rules” by pro-death penalty advocates often has the effect of bringing the victims families to the abolitionist cause. Victim’s families are told that the death of their victimizer will bring them closure and when it does not they feel an emotional dissonance that plunges them back into their anger rather than being relieved of it. In the case of the Snider family, it was not so much the sentence through with the family sought closure but the resolution of the ordeal. Sixteen years after the death of their son, whether in death or in life, the promise that Christopher Stevens would not be a repeat offender was the best resolution that they could hope for.

Square-eyeRead “Contesting the Victim Card: Closure Discourse and Emotion in Death Penalty Rhetoric” by Nancy Berns

Square-eyeRead the article in the Chicago Tribune

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