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A plea for mercy for marathon bomber


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On May 15, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev received the death penalty. Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan planted the bombs on Boylston Street that killed three and injured hundreds more during the 2013 Boston Marathon.

Interviews with Boston residents on major networks showed feelings of relief, justice and retribution. Most said they were not exactly glad; no one is happy about putting a person to death. But many Bostonians feel Tsarnaev is getting what he deserves or even what he asked for.

But there is also fear, sadness and disappointment. What is a government that executes its own citizens? How can we condemn violence with one hand and serve death with the other?

Part of what feels so horrifying about the verdict is Tsarnaev’s age. He was 19 at the time of the bombing and is now 21. Some students at the high school are 19. Many of us have siblings, cousins or friends who are 21. When he committed these horrific crimes, Tsarnaev was barely out of high school.

As teenagers, it is almost incomprehensible to imagine sitting in a cell waiting for artificial death. In another life, Tsarnaev could have been a peer or friend. However, what is most difficult to grapple with as teenagers and citizens is the definition of justice. After all the death we have seen in this tragedy, how can we advocate for more death?

Some believe that the alternative to death, lifetime imprisonment, would be “getting off too easy.” Tsarnaev would have been imprisoned in the ADX, the federal supermax prison in Colorado. According to a New York Times report, the prison has been known to deny medical care to inmates and psychological treatment to the mentally ill ones.

At the ADX, it is likely Tsarnaev would have faced attacks from other prisoners for such a gruesome and well-publicized crime when he wasn’t isolated for most of the day in his tiny cell. How could this possibly be “too easy”? Life in prison is punishment enough.

The April “guilty” verdict came as no surprise. The jury found Tsarnaev guilty of all 30 charges, although he only received the death penalty for seven of them. The jury debated for 14.5 hours before deciding on his punishment and clearly did not jump to the harshest possible conclusions.

We have no anger toward the jurors or those who support them. Their decision is understandable given the horror of the situation. There is comfort in knowing that the decision was not hastily made and that the jurors thought deeply about each charge.

Tsarnaev is someone’s son, someone’s friend. His mother will mourn him just as the parents of the bombing victims mourn their children. Instead of closure and healing for our city, our society has agreed to another death.

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A plea for mercy for marathon bomber