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About That Death Sentence

As most people have heard, a jury has decided that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is to receive the death penalty by lethal injection for his role in the 2013 Boston Marathon. Putting all journalistic, unbiased nature aside, I’m surprised by the decision the Tsarnaev trial jury has made.

I covered the case from the courtroom firsthand. About once a week for the past few months I sat among the journalists I grew up following as we all watched the Boston Marathon bombings trial unfold. I saw Krystle Campbell’s father almost come to tears on the stand. I saw picture after picture of the bloody chaos at the finish line. Still, I can’t imagine Massachusetts, a liberal state that doesn’t even have statewide-level capital punishment, subjecting someone to lethal injection over a lifetime in prison without parole.

I’m not a pacifist. I wasn’t against the death penalty when I started covering the case. Even now I don’t know if I could be against it for every case. I like to think I’m an open-minded person- willing to hear both sides of an argument. That’s why I like journalism. I like simply telling the facts and letting people decide for themselves what to make of them. I’m not afraid to have and share my opinion but I’m not going to shove it down anyone’s throat. As for this death sentence for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, however, I am trying to wrap my head around a decision I don’t agree with.

It’s not that I feel sorry for Tsarnaev. I can’t feel sorry for someone that plants a bomb behind a row of kids, stands there for four minutes and then calls his brother to detonate said bomb. But I can see where life in prison would be a more fitting punishment, and once my initial shock subsided that’s where my problem remains.

Tsarnaev is a terrorist. His intent was to avenge the killings of Muslims by taking American lives. It’s an eye for an eye kind of revenge. But by executing Tsarnaev aren’t we sending the same message? You kill us, we kill you. Someone has to break that cycle, and I really thought that could have begun with this trial.

Additionally, terrorists want to die to receive their reward in their warped sense of “paradise”. Now if Tsarnaev really wanted to die in his twisted idea of honor, he had plenty of opportunities, but I still think that killing him is too close to giving him what he wanted. If nothing else, it runs the risk of making him a martyr for other terrorists.

I don’t want to talk about the monetary cost of keeping Tsarnaev in jail for life versus the death penalty. In a case as serious as this I would argue that justice is priceless. As for the fear that Tsarnaev could potentially be dangerous again in the future, this is where I would have supported the death penalty before. Here I don’t. He would have gone to ADX, one of the most secure prisons in the country. Even if moved from there, Tsarnaev would always be under the jurisdiction of the federal government. This isn’t a movie. He’s not going to tunnel his way out or communicate with other terrorists by slipping coded notes between cells.

Did Tsarnaev show any remorse for what he did? Not that I could see, but how can we ever know? He didn’t testify (probably a very smart decision on the defense’s part), so unless he speaks about it later we will never know what his thoughts are. We can only guess based on his actions, both past and present.

During the trial, I would crane my neck to see Tsarnaev and he would inevitably be slightly slouched, expressionless and still. His poker face was unyielding, though he supposedly wiped a tear once (I wasn’t there for that). He allegedly told a nun that “no one should have to suffer like they [his victims] did,” but what was he supposed to say? Sister Helen was going to testify for the defense and Tsarnaev’s words are open to interpretation. “They” is a vague word. Even if he thinks his victims, “shouldn’t have had to suffer”, does he still justify it with his terrorist beliefs?

I’m not ruling out remorse because I really want to believe everyone can grow as a person. But the other part of me just sees the bomber who went and bought milk after leaving Boylston Street in chaos. People can change, but I would need some solid proof for this case. Apparently, the jury felt the same way.

If domestic terrorism isn’t cause for the death sentence, then what is? It’s a valid question and I don’t have an answer for that. I think everything has to be looked at on a case-by-case basis. If you feel comfortable and justified that the Tsarnaev trial is the case for the death penalty, I respect that just as I respect the jury’s decision. I can respect it and understand it without having to agree with it.

I wasn’t in Boston the day of the bombings. I will never know how it felt that day or what exactly those people experienced. My thoughts are forever with them. I can’t speak for them and I don’t want to, but I can say this- a death sentence is a lengthy process consisting of time-consuming appeals. Any sort of legal process can be complicated and long, but Tsarnaev could live for close to another decade before actually being executed. That’s another decade of his name being in the news, and another decade before the families affected can get closure and move on with their lives.

The added media coverage of Tsarnaev will just get his notorious name out in the open again. He wanted to make a political statement, and despite our good intentions we’re advertising it for him. We should be remembering the victims, the city of Boston, the heroes and American values- not the two terrorists who wanted to destroy it all.

I love the city of Boston wholly. The words “Boston Strong” will always make me proud of a city that showed such heroism and resilience in a dark period. I wear my New England and American heritage with pride and always will. But I thought this example of the legal system in action was going to end differently.

Here’s my attempt to take justice quite literally into my own hands, if only with my computer keys. If I could write my own sentence for Tsarnaev (minus all of the legal talk), it would go something like this: You can attack our finish line, but you can’t destroy Boston’s spirit. We’re going to race again, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, we gave you a fair trial. It’s not that you deserved it, but as a country and as a justice system we have the responsibility and the opportunity to lead by example. We’re not going to kill you because, unlike yourself, we’re better than that vengeance. We don’t base our moral or legal decisions on revenge. You can’t shape our character. You can’t hurt us anymore. We’re going to lock you away for the rest of your life where can you either repent or be miserable for a long time to come. Either way, we’ve demonstrated that democracy and justice will reign over even the nation’s worst criminals. Your name will fade from the papers, you won’t be a martyr and you will no longer have the infamy that you so greatly desired. Get out of our city. Good riddance

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