By Friday, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. will have to decide whether or not he will pursue the death penalty in one of the most publicized cases of his tenure. According to a Boston Herald article published Tuesday, Holder has until the end of the month to decide on the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the suspect held on 30 counts in relation to the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15.
As a proponent of the death penalty, I thought I knew what I wanted to happen. However, the more I think about it, the more I believe Tsarnaev should sit in a jail cell for the rest of his life.
Holder has been deliberating on this decision for months, and the media speculation has been increasing since early December awaiting the announcement. With the formal deadline looming, Holder will have no choice but to make the call.
Last April, I sat in my high school physics classroom on the south side of Chicago, watching the news coverage of the tragedy in the city I was going to call home that fall. In the days that followed, a city shut down in an attempt to find the people responsible.
This is one of those issues where I completely understand both sides of the argument, which is what makes it such a moral conflict. The opinions of those seek the death penalty are completely valid. Some people who are on death row do not value life, and I firmly believe the world would be a better place without them. However, it’s difficult to figure out who those people are.
It might appear obvious when we read the stories in newspapers and online about people who committed horrible crimes. However, the media, and even the law, can get it wrong sometimes.
A Business Insider article from Oct. 18 reported on the story of James Bain. Convicted of breaking and entering, rape and kidnapping in 1974, Bain spent 35 years in jail before he was exonerated with DNA evidence. Imagine if Bain had been on death row. Not only would Bain have spent decades in jail, but also there is a very good chance he wouldn’t have lived to exoneration.
Tsarnaev is not a common case, however. Although technically he is still not convicted, the case against him is fairly strong. There isn’t a chance of a mistaken identity here. Rather, the question is whether or not he qualifies for the death sentence according to the Justice Department’s strict standards. Seriously, check them out — they’re incredibly specific. Since I’m not a lawyer (yet), I can’t speak to whether or not Tsarnaev qualifies.
As for what the people want, there’s a bit of a disagreement. A Washington Post-ABC poll from May found 70 percent of Americans wanted Holder to seek the death penalty. Conversely, a similar poll conducted in September 2013 showed that only 33 percent of Massachusetts residents wanted the death penalty for Tsarnaev. While this tragedy clearly affected Massachusetts residents more than others, Tsarnaev is being tried in federal court, which makes it a matter of national concern.
On the whole, I’m conflicted. Part of me knows that this world will be a better place without Tsarnaev in it. I can’t see him repenting or trying to make up for the irreparable damage he caused. However, another part of me thinks that if the jury convicts and sentences him to death, he’s getting the easy way out. He gets to die a martyr, which seems unfair to all the people who he hurt.
Martyrs inspire others. Guys sitting in jail cells, eating up government resources and health care? Not so much.
Obviously I’m ignoring the moral and religious arguments because I know that’s where most of us will disagree. We have to look beyond the moral reasons and see what’s best for Boston and this country.
My conclusion that Tsarnaev should get life in prison is a hesitant one. It’s not that I believe he deserves to live, I just don’t think he should die from a lethal injection. Sometimes there are worse things in the world than death. For Dzhokar Tsarnaev, I think that would be living the rest of his life in a prison cell.
I don’t expect all my readers to agree with me. This is a hot-button issue, right up there with abortion. Holder, a Columbia-educated lawyer (insert ooohs and ahhs) has had months to think about this decision. I’m not expecting to change minds in 800 words. I just want you to think for a minute about what justice truly is in this situation.
It’s not just about Tsarnaev. We don’t know if he is remorseful or if he was coerced, but it’s not about him. It’s about Krystle Campbell, Martin Richard, Lingzi Lu and all the injured. It’s about the families, friends and people of Boston. It’s about justice for a city, not revenge.
Sara Ryan is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences studying political science and math. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.