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Dzhokhar Tsarnaev sentence delays the closure Boston deserves

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (center) was sentenced to death Friday.
Jane Flavell Collins/AP/file
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (center) was sentenced to death Friday.

Friday’s decision by a federal jury to give Dzhokhar Tsarnaev the death penalty cannot have been an easy one. But after listening to weeks of heart-wrenching testimony about Tsarnaev’s brutality, the 12 jurors decided the ultimate punishment was appropriate for one of the two perpetrators of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

New evidence presented by the prosecution during the trial underscored the heinous nature of the crime by a man most of the jury found incapable of remorse. Even death penalty opponents should respect the jurors, who did their job diligently with the graphic facts presented to them. Tsarnaev is a cold-blooded killer who, the jury concluded, met all the conditions required for a federal death sentence. It’s not a jury’s job to make policy, and this one did not.

Indeed, anyone troubled by the sentence should look past the jury to former attorney general Eric Holder, whose decision to seek the death penalty in the first place remains ill-advised. That decision, and the sentence that followed, threaten to open deep divisions in the community, prolong a saga that most of Boston would rather move past, and delay the kind of closure the city deserves.

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Along with his older brother, Tamerlan, Tsarnaev planted the two bombs that blew up on Boylston Street, killing three spectators, injuring dozens more, and terrorizing the city. A few days later, the brothers gunned down MIT police officer Sean Collier. Tamerlan died during the chase later that night; Dzhokhar was captured in Watertown the next day. His guilt has never been seriously contested, but his defense lawyers attempted to portray him as the junior partner in the conspiracy. While the jury found that some mitigating factors applied to the younger Tsarnaev, they voted unanimously to put him to death.

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But federal death sentences inevitably lead to endless legal appeals, which will afford Tsarnaev a platform for years to come. It’s only right that a condemned killer be allowed to exhaust every legal option. But the prospect of seeing Tsarnaev’s face in the news for decades is only likely to continue traumatizing survivors and the families of victims. Even worse, since most of the rest of the world considers the death penalty barbaric, the city faces the unspeakably galling possibility that Tsarnaev will become a human-rights martyr in the eyes of the international community.

The sentence also conflicts with the sentiments of the overwhelming majority of Bostonians, according to opinion polls. Those polls, of course, did not and should not matter to the jury, which rightly tuned out community views — even the pleas of the Richard family, which argued against executing the killer of their 8-year-old son, Martin.

But those views should have mattered to Holder. The decision to seek death for Tsarnaev was not made in Boston, but now that the jury has endorsed that recommendation, it’s Boston that must endure the sad, unnecessary saga that likely lies ahead.