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Couple who lost limbs in bombings opposes death penalty

Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes said a life sentence for Tsarnaev would provide the best route to healing

Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky at Beth Israel just two weeks after the bombing.Allana Taranto

A pair of prominent survivors deeply affected by the Boston Marathon bombings joined Bill and Denise Richard Sunday in asking the federal government not to pursue the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes, newlyweds who each lost limbs in the attack, said they have wrestled with their feelings about Tsarnaev in the two years since the bombings nearly killed them and upended their lives.

Kensky provided powerful testimony during the guilt phase of Tsarnaev’s trial, taking the stand in her wheelchair just six weeks after undergoing surgery to become a double-amputee. But with the penalty phase about to begin, they concluded that life without the possibility of parole or appeal would provide the best route to healing, keeping Tsarnaev from hurting anyone else while “assuring that he disappears from our collective consciousness as soon as possible.”


“In our darkest moments and deepest sadness, we think of inflicting the same types of harm on him,” they said Sunday, in their joint statement. “We wish that he could feel the searing pain and terror that four beautiful souls felt before their death, as well as the harsh reality of discovering mutilated or missing legs. If there is anyone who deserves the ultimate punishment, it is the defendant. However, we must overcome the impulse for vengeance.”

In separate comments to the Globe, Kensky thanked the Richards for “bravely [taking] the lead in starting a public conversation around this important issue in a way that was elegant, respectful, and strong.” Downes called the trial’s first phase emotionally exhausting and said, “we believe the [Department of Justice] has the power to make decisions that could change how this moves forward,” and they wanted to add their voices to the mix.

The two were newlyweds living in Cambridge — she was a cancer nurse; he was finishing a doctorate in clinical psychology — when the first blast tore through their left legs as they cheered runners at the finish line. Each had run the Boston Marathon before. They went that day as part of a farewell tour to the city where they married and made their first home, before a planned cross-country move so that Downes could complete a fellowship at a San Francisco pediatric hospital.


Today, instead, they remain full-time rehabilitation patients. Last summer the Pentagon granted them rare approval to receive treatment as civilians at the nation’s flagship military center, a reflection of the complexity of Kensky’s case in particular and the nature of the attack, deeply felt by the nation as well as by Greater Boston. They are spending the year at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, living and healing among amputees from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Downes on Monday plans to ride a hand-cycle with a group of “wounded warriors” from Walter Reed. Kensky, who two weeks ago stood for the first time on two prosthetics, will cheer from Boylston Street.

“It is time for us to invest our energy and resources in the future instead of in the past,” they said. And in adding their voices to those of the Richards, they acknowledged that not all survivors or members of the community share their view.

“We recognize that our desire for life imprisonment supports the best interest of the two of us and our family,” they said. “We hope you can understand and respect our position, and in return promise to continue to listen thoughtfully to opposing views as this public discourse continues. ”


Eric Moskowitz can be reached at emoskowitz@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeMoskowitz.