Do death sentences really give victims relief?

Dahlia Lithwick in Slate:

ElectricchairThe past few weeks have been rife with accusations of closure denied. The families of Slobodan Milosevic’s tens of thousands of victims were ostensibly denied closure when he died before the conclusion of his war-crimes tribunal. Decisions over where to try exiled Liberian ruler Charles Taylor turn largely on how to afford closure to his victims. And the families of those killed in the 9/11 attacks despaired that government misconduct had ended not only the prosecution of Zacharias Moussaoui but also their one chance at closure. “I felt like my heart had been ripped out,” said Rosemary Dillard, whose husband died in the attack on the Pentagon. “I felt like my husband had been killed again.”

The Moussaoui death-penalty trial has been touted by the government as a way to bring resolution to bereft families. Hundreds watch the proceedings on remote, closed-circuit televisions. Tens will testify about their losses. This will be their “day in court.” Since John Ashcroft announced in 2002 that he’d seek the death penalty for Moussaoui to “carry out justice,” the assumption has been that justice demands an execution. Ashcroft said something similar in 2001 when he decided that family members of the Oklahoma City bombing victims could witness the execution of Timothy McVeigh on closed-circuit television, insisting it would “meet their need for closure.”

Why? What’s the empirical basis for the government assumption that all, or even most, victims of terrible tragedy will find “closure” through protracted trials and executions?

More here.