In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing tragedy, the victims of these heinous crimes and all people of the commonwealth seek and deserve justice. In authorizing prosecutors to seek the death penalty against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, however, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder instead has put the government in the position of seeking vengeance.
But vengeance is not justice.
Today’s notice by no means ends the discussion. Even where the federal government has noticed an intent to seek the death penalty, it is not uncommon for prosecutors to withdraw the threat of execution later on, and instead support a plea deal calling for life imprisonment.
Still, Holder’s decision to authorize a death penalty prosecution sets the stage for a long, drawn-out, complex, expensive and sensationalized judicial process that, in the end, will do nothing to enhance public safety.
It also disregards the clear wishes of the people of Massachusetts, who through their elected representatives have repeatedly rejected the death penalty. Even shortly after the marathon bombing, a Boston Globe poll found that the people of Boston, by nearly a 2 to 1 margin, favor a sentence of life without parole rather than a death sentence if Tsarnaev is convicted.
In a very real sense, this trial is about us, the people of Massachusetts, and whether we will sacrifice our values and our commitment to justice in the face of terror.
Seeking the death penalty also runs counter to both facts and trends at home and abroad. The United States is one of few countries worldwide to still use the death penalty, and the only Western democracy to do so, according to Amnesty International. At home, states continue to join Massachusetts in rejecting the death penalty, with Maryland most recently joining the list of states that have abolished capital punishment.
Opposition to the death penalty is growing because people know that it is applied in a discriminatory and arbitrary way. They realize that it inherently violates the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment. They know that studies in the U.S. and worldwide show that the death penalty does not deter crime. They also know that drawn-out death penalty cases cost taxpayers more than a penalty of life imprisonment without parole and that, either way, the person convicted dies in prison.
Beyond these facts and figures, however, the people of Massachusetts also realize that this trial is not simply about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Those who attack innocent civilians seek to foment chaos and fear as a way to shake our commitment to liberty and justice for all. In a very real sense, this trial is about us, the people of Massachusetts, and whether we will sacrifice our values and our commitment to justice in the face of terror.
Following the Boston Marathon attack, our community rallied around the slogan “Boston Strong.” Even — especially — in this case, that should mean not letting terrorists or anyone else shake us from our commitment to due process, fair trials and respect for human life.