Dzokhar Tsarnaev has received the death penalty for his role in the 2013 bombing of the Boston Marathon. There are few pieces of news that make me feel as conflicted as this. I don’t support the death penalty. I never have. I believe most of the arguments in its favor – deterrence, economic savings, a desire to permanently remove someone who is unfit for society – ring false. Fundamentally, I believe it boils down to simple revenge.
And I still believe that. Except all those abstract arguments ring a little hollow when confronted with the stark horror of the actions perpetrated by Tsarnaev and his brother. It is very hard to avoid the sense that, if there were ever a case in which society needed, deserved, to seek out vengeance, this is the case. And yet, even here, I cannot abandon my belief that this is the wrong outcome. It isn’t about mercy. I find the thought of a lifetime in a small room, to never see the sky, to be alone with nothing but one’s thoughts, to be a worse thing than death. If you want your vengeance, there it is.
But there is more to it than that. There is the fact that a clear majority of Boston residents did not want the death penalty for Tsarnaev. There is the fact that Bill and Denise Richard, parents of Tsarnaev’s youngest victim, pleaded against Tsarnaev being sentenced to die. Those are two facts that are worthy of note when considering this case. But the case was decided, not by the people of Boston or Bill and Denise Richard, but by the 12 men and women of the jury. And that decision is wrong.
It isn’t about mercy. It isn’t about my abstract opposition to capital punishment. It isn’t about the fact that Tsarnaev was young or under the influence of his brother. It isn’t about the fact that, in his twisted interpretation of his religion, the martydom of death is exactly what Tsarnaev wants. It’s about that most mythical of things: closure. Because there will be precious little of that. Life in prison, without possibility of parole? We’re done. Tsarnaev would never see the light of day. The notion that he might mount an appeal against a life sentence is laughable, given that his guilt was acknowledgedby his own defense in the opening statements of the trial. A life in prison would be the last we would see of Tsarnaev. We would be done with him. And that would be a very good thing for the friends and families of his victims, for Boston, for the country.
Instead of that, Tsarnaev’s death sentence will be automatically appealed, and that is likely to be the beginning of a long series of appeals and court cases and we will see Tsarnaev’s face on the news and reread his words and the enormity of his crimes will be picked at like a scab. That isn’t closure. If and when he is put to death, it will be years from now, and every year will keep him in the heads of those whom he made suffer. That isn’t closure.