Two weeks ago, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev sat morosely in front of a federal jury as they dropped a long-awaited bombshell verdict on him: Tsarnaev, the last remaining “Boston Bomber,” will be put to death by lethal injection.
Bostonians are hardly dancing in the streets. According to a Boston Globe Poll, only 15% of the city supports the death penalty for Tsarnaev. Throughout the trial, the family of the youngest victim of the attack, eight-year-old Martin Richard, has tearfully plead against capital punishment claiming that a life sentence for Tsarnaev would provide better closure and less legal follow-up for them. Mourning Bostonians lined up outside the courthouse on the day of Tsarnaev’s sentencing touting freshly-lettered signs protesting, “Death Penalty is Murder.” Capital punishment — a penalty designed to bring justice and vengeance to those affected by horrific crimes — clearly isn’t doing too much good for the people it intends to heal.
So where’s the disconnect?
Capital punishment doesn’t make sense — not for the victims, not for their families, not for their communities and not for America as a whole. Lethal injection won’t put a nation’s suffering to rest. The state-sanctioned murder of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev won’t soothe the scars of Bostonians, and one more death won’t lift the burden of grief off of anyone’s shoulders.
Supporters of the death penalty for Tsarnaev believe that mourners of the Boston bombing victims will not have real closure until he’s dead. In reality, eye-for-an-eye justice in the form of capital punishment is usually more of a burden on the bereaved than a life sentence would be.
When a criminal is sentenced to death, the road to their actual execution is excruciatingly long and tedious. Death row inmates spend years, sometimes decades, waiting for appeal after appeal to go through before they are actually put to death. Families of victims are usually closely involved in these trials, tying their lives up further in their tragedy. It’s impossible to even try to move on. If a criminal is given a life sentence instead, the process is a lot more cut-and-dry. The sentence goes through, and the family usually has comparatively little to do with the case while the criminal spends the rest of their lives quietly tucked away in a concrete cell. In most respects, they disappear.
When was the last time anyone heard anything significant out of Charles Manson? Life in prison is about as out-of-the-spotlight one can get, even for the most infamous. Death sentences are an unnecessary media circus.
Bostonians might rest easier knowing that Tsarnaev has faded into a life sentence of miserable obscurity, rather than being forced to sit through constant coverage of his death row appeals for the next several years. Especially for the families of victims forced to relive the tragedy again and again, appeal after appeal, spending the next few years involved in the legal intricacies of Tsarnaev’s death sentence must almost feel like losing their lives all over again.
Tsarnaev’s barbaric act of terrorism is inexcusable, and he deserves to be punished for his crimes — but putting him to death is not the type of punishment that will facilitate healing for those affected by his actions.
We cannot defend capital punishment on any kind of moral high ground — as horrific as someone’s crimes might be, murder is still murder, even when it’s state-sanctioned. Violence is not a viable response to violence, especially when other alternatives provide better closure to mourners. A life sentence is by no means a pardon — in fact, a life spent wasting away in confinement is arguably harsher on prisoners than the reprieve of death. A life sentence for Tsarnaev would, however, make the mourning process a lot easier for those affected by the bombing who just want to try to move forward with their lives.
The entire purpose of capital punishment is emotional catharsis for victims. The furious anti-death penalty protests in Boston are proof that death to Tsarnaev is not the kind of vengeance victims want — and if the healing of victims is what we’re really concerned with, something has to give.
Megan Cole is a first-year literary journalism major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.