"It's very unusual for a wealthy, well-connected person to get the death penalty," says TIME legal correspondent Adam Cohen. "I don't think there has been a case like this." Celebrated past recipients of the death penalty such as Julius and Ethel Rosenberg or Caryl Chessman were neither rich nor powerful, and gained their status as a consequence of their trials, Cohen says. More recently, capital punishment was pre-emptively rejected in the O.J. Simpson case. But Capano had no legendary gridiron past, and a wholly unpleasant present. Although the scion of a wealthy real estate family and a mover among Delaware's elite, "at no point in the story did he present himself as an appealing human being," says Cohen. "People were outraged by the viciousness of the crime and the underlying relationships" -- which involved not only the three-year adulterous affair that Capano had with the victim, Anne Marie Fahey, but the fact that he tried to pin her murder on yet another mistress. Capano, who steadfastly refused to express any remorse, "systematically and contemptuously degraded" everyone involved in his trial, said Judge William Swain Lee as he handed down the sentence. And as a jury in Jasper, Tex., could have told you a few weeks back, nothing cuts across social lines quicker than an unrepentant murderer.
Although the recent upswing in capital punishment has put the spotlight on a parade of evildoers, they have tended to come straight out of Central Casting : poor, lower-class hard-luck cases for whom murder was the defining moment of their lives -- think Karla Faye Tucker, or Texas dragging murderer James William King. But the death sentence handed down Tuesday to former state prosecutor and political adviser Thomas Capano for the murder of a secretary to the governor of Delaware brings the death penalty to a far more rarefied social stratum. Indeed, when was the last time a rich, powerful white man was sentenced to die?