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The chances that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will actually be put to death for his alleged role in last year’s bombings at the Boston Marathon that killed three people and injured 260 are slim and none.
Tsarnaev, who faces 30 federal charges, is being tried in Massachusetts – a state where, according to at least one poll, only a third of the citizens support the death penalty. If he is convicted, it would take a unanimous jury to impose the death penalty. Like I said, slim and none.
But the announcement this past week that Attorney General Eric Holder has authorized prosecutors to seek the death penalty for Tsarnaev has predictably rekindled the debate over one of the most divisive issues in America.
That ought to be a good thing. Issues like this deserve frequent, vigorous debate. But it seems the talking points have become as predictable as the debate itself.
The prosecutors cite the usual list of reasons: Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, who was killed in a shootout with police, intended to kill and/or maim their victims. They planned the attack and were guilty, as prosecutors alleged in court, of a “heinous, cruel and depraved manner of committing the offense.”
On the other side, death penalty opponents note the obvious, that putting Tsarnaev to death will not bring back those who died, nor heal the wounds or restore the limbs of those injured.
Beyond that, they contend that it costs more to put an inmate to death than to keep him in prison for life; that the death penalty is “cruel and unusual” punishment; that it demonstrates a disrespect for life that lowers society to the level of the murderer; that justice should never be about revenge; and that it is “not who we are as a society.” And, in this case, that it will grant Tsarnaev’s wish to be a martyr, while if he is imprisoned for life, he will be forgotten.