“Cruel and absurd”

Back in early April, Charles Pierce wrote about the sentencing phase of the Boston Marathon bomber trial. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had been found guilty and the jury would now decide his fate: life in prison or the death penalty. (Note: The death penalty was abolished in Massachusetts in 1984 but the federal courts still allow it.)

Yesterday, after thinking it over for 15 hours, the jury in Massachusetts decided to kill Tsarnaev.

From Reuters:

Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was sentenced to death by a U.S. jury on Friday for helping carry out the 2013 attack that killed three people and wounded 264 others in the crowds at the race’s finish line.

After deliberating for 15 hours, the federal jury chose death by lethal injection for Tsarnaev, 21, over its only other option: life in prison without possibility of release.

The same jury found Tsarnaev guilty last month of placing a pair of homemade pressure-cooker bombs on April 15, 2013, as well as fatally shooting a policeman.

From Charlie Pierce’s keyboard:

Eric Rudolph is still alive. Ted Kaczynski is still alive. The blind sheikh is still alive. Zacarias Moussaoui is still alive. I mention all of this because the trial phase of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev ended today with his being convicted on all 30 counts relating to the Boston Marathon bombing. In reality, of course, these entire proceedings merely were an extended penalty phase. Tsarnaev’s legal team conceded his role in the crime right from the start. Now, acting through the jury, we will decide whether to kill him or not.

There’s no point in rehashing all the arguments on either side. There’s no point in trying to make the absurd measured moral choice that Tsarnaev deserves to die while Rudolph and Kaczynski — and Moussaoui, convicted of participating in the greatest mass murder in the country’s history — deserve to live out their sunless lives in a SuperMax somewhere. You can say kill ’em all, but we haven’t, and we don’t …

So, the question becomes, does killing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev serve the interests of justice. To answer this question, it is insufficient to summon up the tragedies of his victims, because then you have to explain why they deserve more of the strange kind of “closure” than did Kaczynski’s. To answer this question, it is insufficient to refer back to what a glorious, happy day it was when Tsarnaev committed his crimes, because then you have to explain why a glorious and happy spring day in Boston in 2013 was so much more glorious and happy than a summer’s night in Atlanta in 1996. …

The question becomes, as it always does, is the death penalty itself consistent with the distinctly American idea of the rule of law, or do the preposterous ambiguities that we’ve built into our way of killing people, largely to salve our putatively democratic consciences, render the punishment not only cruel and unusual, but cruel and absurd.

And our “shining city on the hill” gets tarnished once again. The international community took note in its universal periodic review (UPR) of our human rights record :

The United States was slammed over its rights record Monday at the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, with member nations criticizing the country for police violence and racial discrimination, the Guantánamo Bay Detention Facility and the continued use of the death penalty.

It is barbaric. It is simply vengeance as it neither provides closure for the victim’s families and friends nor does it deter anyone from committing a similar crime. It is indeed, “cruel and absurd”.


  1. There will, of course, be legal appeals. But apparently the appeals from many of us, including some of the victims’ family members, to please not kill in our name, fell on deaf ears.

  2. The death penalty is state sanctioned murder. It goes against everything In which I believe. Everything,. I am so sad, so ashamed, to be part of a society that believes in it. It is so barbaric. So immoral. I was brought up to believe in mercy, forgiveness, repentance, redemption but not revenge, definitely not revenge. Revenge destroys the soul, whether it is of an individual or a state.
    I found this which I thought interesting

    Not since 1988 has a presidential candidate for a major political party declared themselves opposed to the death penalty. In announcing his run for the presidency, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has thrown down his gauntlet. During an appearance on “The Thom Hartmann Show” on May 1, a caller asked Sanders if he would end executions of the mentally ill. Sanders replied that he opposes all executions, offering a moral explanation for his position.

    http://www.rawstory.com/2015/05/bernie-sanders-on-the-death-penalty-the-state-shouldnt-be-in-the-business-of-killing-people/ bold mine

  3. From Amnesty International’s 2012 report

    The United States ranked fifth for the highest number of executions.

    The U.S. takes a spot behind China, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia for the most executions in the world last year, sitting ahead of Yemen and the Sudan.

    This ranking comes as no surprise to Brian Evans, Amnesty International’s acting director on the Death Penalty Abolition Campaign, who said the same countries are in the top eight every year. (See video: “Inside Death Row.”)

    But why is the U.S.—which seems like somewhat of an outlier politically, culturally, and geographically—always in the top five?

    According to Evans, the U.S. has a strict attitude toward punishment in general. Having a severe attitude toward the death penalty is only natural when you consider that the U.S. leads the world in mass incarceration of prisoners and holds records for solitary confinement and sentences to life in prison.


    Not much to be proud of.

  4. There was a time when I was in favor of the death penalty. The Innocence Project convinced me that I was wrong. Now I favor life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. I can’t think of anything worse than life in prison. Even Richard Speck, who murdered six nurses in Chicago savagely in 1966, received life imprisonment.

    It bothers me that Tsarnov’s victims will have to relive the massacre again and again as the appeals process drags through the courts.

    • I guess I still believe in the possibility of redemption and that those convicted of heinous crimes might do dangerous work such as working with Ebola victims, etc.

    • You know, Diana in NoVa, I don’t want to pile on the victims because they have surely suffered enough. But I don’t understand this comment, from the Reuters story:

      “I know that there is still a long road ahead,” said survivor Karen Brassard, whose left leg was badly injured in the attack. “There are going to be many, many dates ahead. But today we can take a breath, and actually breathe again,” she told reporters.

      How does this help her breathe? He was never going to be let free. And how can she get closure if, as you pointed out, this story is in the paper for the next 15 years (the average amount of time for a death penalty appeal )?

    • I did not oppose the death penalty until Troy Davis and Todd Willingham woke me up. Add on the number of people exonerated by DNA evidence and I cannot imagine how many innocent people we’ve put to death. And, in the end, Thou Shall Not Kill doesn’t come with an exception clause.

    • I was also surprised by the barbaric sentence since it didn’t square with the Boston I knew which always saw itself as very civilized. More on that

      To the amazement of people elsewhere, Bostonians overwhelmingly opposed condemning the bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, to death. The most recent poll, conducted last month for The Boston Globe, found that just 15 percent of city residents wanted him executed. Statewide, 19 percent did. By contrast, 60 percent of Americans wanted Mr. Tsarnaev to get the death penalty, according to a CBS News poll last month.

      No one here felt sympathy for him. Rather, many thought life in prison would be a fate worse than death, especially for someone as young as Mr. Tsarnaev, who is 21. Others feared that putting him to death would make him a martyr. Still others, interviewed around the city Friday night and Saturday, reflected the region’s historical aversion to the death penalty.

      Neil Maher, who spent his teenage years in Boston and returned this weekend for his class reunion at Boston College High School, said the verdict had surprised and disappointed him.

      “They ought to demonstrate a little humanity,” said Mr. Maher, 66, who lives in Frederick, Md. “Killing a teenager’s not going to do anything. I think it’s just a kind of visceral revenge. I think that in three years, the people of Boston and the people on the jury will feel bad about this decision.”

      Like many others, he could not square the death sentence with the sense of Massachusetts exceptionalism that has pervaded Boston since 1630, when the Puritan John Winthrop said this spot in the New World would be “as a city upon a hill — the eyes of all people are upon us.”


      • I couldn’t understand it either … until I read that ThinkProgress article. There was a thumb on the scales of justice:

        Tsarnaev would have been sentenced to life in prison if just one juror had disagreed with the decision. But in order to serve on this case’s jury, participants had to be “death qualified” — meaning that they are not categorically opposed to the idea of the death penalty. “The jurors who ultimately decide Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s fate will begin their task with a shared bias — their willingness to consider capital punishment,” wrote Joan Vennochi in an editorial for the Boston Globe.

        In that regard, the jurors are not particularly representative of Boston’s populace.

        So the jurors were from the small pool of “okay with the death penalty” Bostonians. If you said you were morally opposed to the death penalty, that disqualified you! Where does such a rule come from?

        We need to get the federal death sentence repealed.

        • As for this

          We need to get the federal death sentence repealed.

          could not agree more. Also repealed in every state. We should join the civilized world.

  5. Nebraska’s legislature voted to abolish their state’s death penalty. The governor has threatened to veto but the vote was large enough to overcome a veto if necessary. Nebraska.

    • The State Senator who pushed this law through has been working on it for the better part of 4 decades. He is quite a character.

      This is a two-fer: stops one more state from killing people … and embarrasses the Republican governor.

        • Our peeps used to use the Fierce to keep track of which comments they had seen. The thumbs up solved that problem. We are down to one missing tool: a comment tracker to find replies to our comments. I might have to write a plugin since I can’t find anything.

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