After having watched the finale of Breaking Bad, William, Samuel, and I ended up discussing whether Walter’s killing of Krazy 8 was justified.
These are the facts of the case:
Krazy 8 and his cousin, Emilio, were led to Walter and Jesse’s mobile meth lab to make a deal. Instead, Krazy 8 and Emilio planned to rob and kill Walter and Jesse, but not until after being taught how to cook Walter’s special meth. Walter was able to poison them and escape. Believing both were dead, Walter and Jesse transported the bodies in the RV. However, only Emilio was deceased. Krazy 8 was able to escape temporarily, but was recaptured by Walter and locked up in Jesse’s basement. After some time, Walter desired to let Krazy 8 go, but was worried that harm would befall him and his family. After a long discussion with Krazy 8, Walter decided to free him. However, when Walter cleaned up a plate that he had dropped and broken, he discovered that Krazy 8 had kept a shard of it. As Walter was feigning unlocking him, he saw Krazy 8 reach for the shard and strangled him.
Was Walter justified in his killing of Krazy 8?
William’s argument could be summarized as follows: since Walter could reasonably expect Krazy 8 would perpetrate immediate violence against him and his family, his killing of Krazy 8 was justified in self-defense.
But for Samuel, this wasn’t in immediate self-defense as Krazy 8 was still locked to a pole in the basement and therefore incapacitated. Walter’s alternative of keeping him locked up until he dies of natural causes would also be unjustified according to Samuel. What Walter should do is call the police, who are looking for Krazy 8, and see what kind of deal he can make to minimize the penalties against himself.
William does not find this acceptable. Walter has no moral obligation to subject himself to the state, which will likely punish him for committing victimless crimes. However, it is possible for Walter to deliver Krazy 8 into police custody anonymously. But this runs into difficulties: Krazy 8 still has the ability to implicate Walter in illegal activity, and more importantly, still poses a threat to Walter and his family, either by waiting until he is out of police custody and exacting revenge himself, or by having one of his lieutenants or a hired hitman ensure vengeance against the Whites. For William, this is too high of a price to take.
The competing values here seem to be between 1) the safety of Walter and his family and 2) avoiding the perils of taking the law into one’s own hands. These two values seem to be quite difficult to weigh against one another, but I feel that more must be said about the latter. Since I can’t delve into the question too deeply here, we will just assume that, all else being equal, justice is preferable when provided through transparent institutions open to public scrutiny rather than exclusively by the victims themselves. Accepting this would appear to be a mark against Walter’s case. But it is my contention that this whole case is an indictment against the state criminal justice system as it currently exists.
But for the black market conditions that prevail surrounding meth, it is unlikely that anyone would decide to attempt to kill someone for his or her recipe. Secondly, it is because of drug prohibition that calling the police is a significantly less attractive option for Walt, in addition to the fact that they will most likely be unable to protect Walter and his family. Thirdly, the state’s monopoly justice system left Walter with no institutional alternative to taking the law into his own hands. It seems unfair to say he is morally obligated to subject himself to the institution that quite arguably put him in the predicament in the first place.
The rebuttal that Walter should have known this going in is no valid defense for the state. One might as well argue that a mugger has mitigating circumstances because his victims should have known they were walking into a bad neighborhood.
In my opinion, Walter did the best he could with the situation he found himself in. Krazy 8 presented a mortal threat to his family, and the costs of seeking justice from the state, which would unduly punish him and would still leave his family at risk, were too high. One can hardly blame Walter for taking the law into his own hands when the monopoly justice system leaves him with no better alternative, and if one truly cares about the rule of law prevailing, she must question whether the state ultimately helps or hinders that ideal.