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Boston bombing trial and America’s death sentence dilemma

When a horrific crime or act of terrorism occurs in America, it is often a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction for Americans to want the person or persons put to death, says Addis Standard’s U.S. correspondent Tomas Mega, but America’s system of justice allows for seemingly endless appeals for those sentenced to death, requiring families and loved ones of the victims to relive those horrific events

Eight-year-old Martin Richard was standing only a few meters from the pressure cooker bomb fashioned by the Tsaranev brothers when it detonated on April 15, 2013 at the Boston Marathon. He was killed; literally torn apart. His six-year old sister, Jane, had her leg blown off and his mother, Denise, lost an eye in the explosion. Bill Richard, Martin’s father, also received injuries. Two others were killed by the blast, and another, a university police officer, was murdered by the Tsaranev brothers days after the attack. The bombing also left nearly 260 people wounded, many of whom lost limbs.

On April 1, 2015, admitted co-bomber Dzhokhar Tsaranev was convicted on all 30 Federal counts. Police killed his brother, Tamarlan Tsaranev, four days after the bombing. The Federal Government is seeking the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsaranev, but it is not guaranteed that the jury will agree.

Massachusetts abolished the death penalty in 1984, but Tsarnaev is being tried in federal court, which makes the death penalty a possible sentencing option. However, the jury is comprised of Massachusetts residents and they could decide against the death penalty as a reflection of the state’s views on the issue.

Boston citizens are no strangers to horrific crimes. In the 1960’s, Albert De Salvo, the notorious “Boston Strangler,” confessed to thirteen murders of women by strangulation. A jury sentenced him to life in prison. A few years later in the early 1970’s, another serial murderer again panicked the city. Eight young women were killed in five months. Most were university co-eds who were abducted, raped and murdered while hitchhiking. Anthony J. Jackson, the infamous “Hitchhike Murderer,” was convicted of many of those deaths and once again, a jury sentenced him to life in prison. Certainly, the Tsaranev jury could decide the same fate.

Nationwide, most Americans feel that Tsaranev should receive the death penalty, but a recent poll of Boston area residents oppose it. The decision must be unanimous; if one juror disagrees with a death sentence, then Tsaranev will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The last time Massachusetts executed someone was 1947.

If anyone had a reason to press for the death penalty, it would be little Martin’s parents, Bill and Denise Richard. Instead, they have spoken out against the death sentence for Tsaranev. Their reasoning is compelling and has once again ignited a debate regarding the death penalty.

“We are in favor of and would support the Department of Justice in taking the death penalty off the table in exchange for the defendant spending the rest of his life in prison without any possibility of release and waiving all of his rights to appeal,” Bill and Denise Richard wrote in an essay published in The Boston Globe newspaper. “We know that the government has its reasons for seeking the death penalty, but the continued pursuit of that punishment could bring years of appeals and prolong reliving the most painful day of our lives,” the parents wrote. “We hope our two remaining children do not have to grow up with the lingering, painful reminder of what the defendant took from them, which years of appeals would undoubtedly bring.”

According to a report on USA Today, in 2006, the average time an inmate spent on death row appealing their sentence was twelve years. In California, wait times average nearly twenty years, and cost the state nearly $90,000 more per year to house a death row inmate than other inmates. Despite popular belief, it is more expensive to execute a prisoner than it is to have them spend the remainder of their life in prison. Death penalty trials are simply more expensive. They often require extra lawyers; there are strict experience requirements for attorneys, leading to lengthy appellate waits while capable counsel is sought for the accused; security costs are higher, as well as costs for processing evidence. DNA testing, for example, is far more expensive than simple blood analyses.

After receiving a death sentence, prisoner expenses continue to rise. It costs more to house death row inmates, who are held in segregated sections, in individual cells, with guards delivering everything from daily meals to toilet paper.

However, it is the incalculable emotional cost to the victims that the Richard family objects to. The prospect of Dzhokhar Tsaranev spending years on death row while his sentence is appealed is clearly crueller to the Richard family than the prospect of him receiving life in prison without the possibility of parole. Appeals mean the victims and their families must re-live the horrific events recurrently. As the Richard family has suggested, they do not want to see Dzhokhar Tsaranev ever again. Sentencing him to life in prison, without the possibility of parole, will accomplish that. For them, it is over; as best as it can be.

When a horrific crime or act of terrorism occurs in America, it is often a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction for Americans to want the person or persons put to death. But our system of justice allows for seemingly endless appeals for those sentenced to death, requiring families and loved ones of the victims to relive those horrific events and often face the convicted killer repeatedly as the appeals process slowly winds its way through our judicial system. The family of eight-year-old Martin Richard is speaking out against that emotional cruelty, and many are listening.

Mr. Tsaranev is unrepentant. He has stated being martyred is a good thing: “you die with a smile on your face and go straight to heaven,” he is quoted as saying. It is his reward. Why grant his wish?



Cover caption: the scene after the Boston bombing that killed eight-year old Martin Richard

Photo: Dailymail

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