Criminal Justice: The Sentencing Mess

In Brooklyn last March, two young thugs named Kazle Anthony and Stephen Batten forced three butchers into a walk-in icebox, robbed them of $3,500, shot each of them in the head twice, and finished them off with meat cleavers. After a jury convicted them of first-degree murder, Justice David L. Malbin called the killers' crime "one of the most atrocious in this country."

Shortly before the thugs were tried, however, New York had abolished the death penalty for all but police killers. As a result, Justice Malbin sentenced the killers to life imprisonment—then...