No matter where you stand on capital punishment, the ruling on Friday vacating Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s death sentence probably came as a shock.
Seven years after Tsarnaev and his late brother attacked this city by bombing the Boston Marathon, their horrendous deeds have come rushing back. For the victims and their families, the ruling raises the likelihood of another trial, this time to decide whether to reimpose the death penalty.
I believe that another Boston Marathon trial is the last thing this city needs. I believe such a trial would bring little in the way of justice, or “closure.” I think it is time for this case to end.
In setting aside Tsarnaev’s death sentence, a three-judge panel ruled that the original trial judge, George A. O’Toole Jr., did not do enough to screen jurors for impartiality. It turns out that two of the 12 jurors failed to disclose everything they knew about the case before being selected, or had discussed it on social media. The appellate judges found that O’Toole should have questioned the jurors in far greater detail about what they had read or seen in the media — which could, in theory, have swayed their decision to vote for death.
I want to pause to note that Tsarnaev will never be released from prison. The only question on the table is whether he will spend the rest of his life in prison or be executed.
By any standard, he and his brother, Tamerlan, committed the most heinous of crimes. If any case calls for the death penalty, it is their act of terrorism on Boylston Street in 2013. The survivors of their heinous deeds have been hailed as heroes among us since the day of the bombing, and rightly so.
And yet, even the families of victims have always been publicly split on the death penalty. That’s not especially surprising, when you consider how deeply divided the public in general is on this issue.
The original Tsarnaev trial was gut-wrenching, as victims and witnesses poured out raw pain and emotion from the witness stand. I can’t imagine putting survivors through that agony again.
Given the slow pace of legal maneuvering, a second trial could easily take a year or more to occur. A second conviction would lead to more years of appeals. The gears of justice grind especially slowly in capital punishment cases, often with good reason, because mistakes resulting in execution have no remedy. But in this case, those delays will only ramp up everyone’s suffering.
Legal experts seem to believe that the Trump Justice Department will almost certainly push for the death penalty in this case. It has waged a years-long battle to reimpose a federal death penalty, and this is certainly a tailor-made example of a capital crime.
I’m against the death penalty, in all cases. That’s primarily because I believe the massive amount of evidence that shows it has been unjustly imposed, and does nothing to deter crime. I don’t think there’s any rational argument for it, even if there are powerful emotional ones.
But I think this prosecution should wrap up for another reason. I think the people who want to execute Tsarnaev want a form of justice that no court can deliver.
I believe another jury would impose the death penalty, even if the next trial were moved out of Boston, as some have argued it should be.
But what does killing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev restore? What does it heal? What score does it even?
I think the most fitting punishment he can receive is the one he already has: to live, year after year, without a glimmer of hope of freedom. To live with his evil deeds in the darkest place society can put him. No more lawyers, no more appeals, just decades of emptiness stretching before him.
We don’t need another trial to tell us who Tsarnaev is, or what he’s done, or what he deserves. We don’t need to relive it. We need him out of sight, and out of mind, forever.