Attorney General Eric Holder and his colleagues in the US attorney’s office in Boston are calling for the death penalty for accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The debate over their wisdom, or lack thereof, in doing so misses the main point.
The case should have been prosecuted by the Suffolk County district attorney, not the federal Department of Justice. The primary party of interest is the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and its people. The crime was committed here, allegedly by Tsarnaev and his deceased brother. A trial in Suffolk Superior Court would probably take a few weeks at most, followed, in the event of a conviction, by mandatory review by the Supreme Judicial Court.
In contrast, the upcoming federal trial doubtless will consume months, and then weeks more on the capital sentencing phase, followed by lengthy appeals.
To federal prosecutors, this is a case of domestic terrorism; it has to be in order to invoke federal jurisdiction over what, for centuries and until only recently, has been quintessentially a state crime. To Suffolk County, it is a case of mass murder, tried much like countless cases of murder have been and continue to be tried in our state courts year in and year out.
It is time for the federal government to allow states like Massachusetts to handle criminal acts in which their people have the primary interest. As a bonus, the people of Massachusetts would not have to withstand the insult of having the Feds prosecute a death penalty case in a jurisdiction whose people are overwhelmingly against such state-sponsored eye-for-an-eye barbarism.
The writer is an attorney.