Mostly whimsical reflections on life
A jury will decide soon whether convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be executed or sentenced to life in prison without parole. This should be an easy call.
Tsarnaev’s guilt in killing four and wounding 260 people is not in doubt. His motivation for the terrorist act is not in doubt. His lack of remorse and repentance for the harm he caused is not in doubt.
There is no reason to doubt Tsarnaev would see his execution as a step toward martyrdom and his tortured perception of paradise.
So why give him what he wants? Deny him his gratification. Let him live.
Many, including me, view the death penalty for capital crimes as a punishment with few virtues. The death penalty is an unreliable deterrent and may even be a perverted motivation to kill again. It is costly compared to imprisonment because of lengthy appeals and the high expense of maintaining death row. It is morally questionable.
And many executions have been botched, raising concerns about cruel and unusual punishment.
However, by far, the most important reason to pull the plug on state executions is because we risk killing innocent men and women. Too many of those men and women are African-Americans.
None of these demerits of the death penalty are relevant to Tsarnaev. He doesn’t deny his guilt. He is a cold-blooded serial killer. He is, as prosecutors say, America’s worst nightmare. He wants to die.
What better punishment can you imagine than letting him stew for the rest of his life, if not for the harm he caused, but for the alleged paradise he will miss.
Not executing Tsarnaev is the surest path toward letting the men, women, children and families injured so grievously in the bombing go on with their lives without having to hear about or even testify again at Tsarnaev’s unending death penalty appeal hearings.
Letting Tsarnaev, 21, live gives him a lifetime to reflect on what he and his brother did. Years of confinement in prison can have unexpected results. Nelson Mandela emerged from a South African jail cell to lead his nation and forgive his oppressors. Tsarnaev will never leave prison, but he could escape his jihad mentality and gain respect for mankind and tolerance.
Forgiveness is seldom viewed as a national policy or an appropriate sentencing option. But in Tsarnaev’s case, it would sound a powerful message to his sympathizers – at home and abroad – that America stands for more than revenge. We embrace the power to forgive to heal old wounds and build new relationships.
Making Tsarnaev the symbol of forgiveness will do more good than putting him to death. He would be a living symbol that we’re different than the people he thought he was killing and maiming. That’s the best we could hope to reap from this tragedy.