Dzhokhar Tsarnaev received the death penalty yesterday for his role in the Boston Marathon bombings. Dzhokhar was tied to two of the deaths and that was enough for the “death qualified” jury to hand down its verdict.
While this ended the second of a two part trial process, it most likely began at least a 10 year process of appeals before the sentence is actually carried out. Why was this expensive trial undertaken when there was no argument that Mr Tsarnaev actual did commit the crime?
The first reason, of course, is that in a civilized country guilt should be proven before punishment is handed out. Video evidence combined with defense admissions made this a relatively quick trip to the verdict “guilty”.
The second reason is much more difficult to answer. Why was it necessary to conduct a second trial and even have to consider a sentence of “death by lethal injection”? The answer most often provided is Tsarnaev committed a capital crime punishable by death if so deemed by a “death qualified” jury.
And this again begs the question, why would a jury consider “death” at all? The death penalty has been eliminated in most advanced societies and remains popular mainly in third world and authoritarian regimes. Hmmm.
The sad answer that emerges connects “eye for an eye” retribution with the notion of “death as a deterrent”. Despite the fact that study after study has shown that murder or other serious crimes are not deterred because the death penalty exists, advocates continue to claim such heinous crimes deserve the maximum punishment.
Most peculiar about this case is that the State of Massachusetts has no death penalty. Had Tsarnaev been tried in Massachusetts State Courts, he would have been found guilty and sentence to life imprisonment. Boom, done and over. Instead the Federal Government stepped in and exerted jurisdiction. Now there is a death sentence but an uncertain future over when and how the sentence will be carried out.
In many other States, the death penalty is live and well. Since the advances of DNA analysis, however, a number of death row prisoners are being freed because the previous ironclad
evidence that convicted them (and lead to their death sentence) is now shown in error.
Once dead,new evidence is of little use. In the case of Tsarnaev, there will be no new evidence, there can only be a new understanding of why a civilized society would revert to killing when it has laws that say its own citizens should not kill each other.
IMO, if Tsarnaev’s appeal process does last 10 years, there is a very good chance that the death penalty will again be considered “cruel and unusual” punishment. Consequently there is a better than average chance he will not be put to death in any case.
Wouldn’t it be better for our society to look around at other civilized modern societies, decide the death penalty was no longer consistent with our values, and eliminate its use without relying upon the Constitution?