Should Dzhokhar Tsarnaev die?

Death Penalty
by Marvin Olasky

Posted on Monday, March 23, 2015, at 3:33 pm

The defense attorneys for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in the Boston Marathon bombing case are working hard to keep him from being put to death. Should we cheer their effort?

Let’s think it through. God states in Genesis 9:5, “From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.” But, given our human tendency to strike out in revenge, God also establishes a high bar of evidence before the death penalty is in order.

So, a series of questions. Were there victims? Absolutely: Three people died and at least 16 others lost limbs. Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan, killed in a shootout with police, also allegedly slew an MIT police officer.

Second, do we know what killed those first three victims? Yes: Bombs concealed in backpacks went off. Investigators have found shrapnel, black nylon backpack pieces, the lid of a pressure cooker, and the remains of an electronic circuit board.

Third, could the killing have been accidental and unpremeditated? No: The construction and planting of bombs was clearly deliberate—and they were designed to kill, not scare.

Fourth, do we know who planted the bombs? Yes: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s lawyers do not dispute his involvement. Two backpacks, two brothers. The older brother may well have influenced the younger, but Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was clearly not just along for the ride.

Despite the overwhelming evidence, the involvement of skilled defense lawyers makes it unlikely that Tsarnaev will be put to death. Two-thirds of the time juries find guilt they still don’t go for death. And, since reinstatement of the federal death penalty in 1988, judges and juries have imposed 70 death penalty sentences, but officials have executed only three people, including Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh in 2001.

Statistics like three out of 70, and the high cost of appeals that can stretch for decades, has led pragmatists to call for an end to the death penalty. The seven murderers I interviewed in Texas prisons in 2013 are certainly leading a miserable existence. Could the “reckoning” demanded in Genesis for murder be life imprisonment without parole?

Maybe, when there are special mitigating circumstances. Yes, whenever there is any doubt—but there is no doubt here. If the younger Tsarnaev lives for many years, is that fair to those he and his brother killed: Krystle Campbell, 29; Lu Lingzi, 23; and 8-year-old Martin Richard?

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD and dean of World Journalism Institute. He joined WORLD in 1992 and has also been a university professor and provost. He has written more than 20 books, including Reforming Journalism. Marvin resides with his wife, Susan, in Austin, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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