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What Punishment Fits Tsarnaev’s Crime?

By Carrie Robinson
30 Apr 2015

Two years ago, Boston Marathon runners and spectators endured a gruesome crime at the hands of the Chechnyan Tsarnaev brothers. Although the older brother and supposed mastermind of the operation, Tamerlan, was killed shortly after the bombing, American is still left asking: how do we punish Dzhokhar?

The only two options presented so far in Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s ongoing trial have been the death penalty or a life sentence without parole. Interestingly, the majority of Boston voters support Dzhokhar Tsarnaev spending life in prison rather than facing the death penalty. Although most support a life sentence, the reasoning behind the support may vary. Boston.com compiled the four main reasons that Boston voters oppose punishing Tsarnaev with the death penalty in this case. Some voters simply oppose the death penalty on principle, as displayed by the ongoing protest outside the Moakley Federal Courthouse. Others believe that due to the average slowness of the death penalty process,  Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s name could remain in the media for years to come, while a life behind bars would force him into out of the spotlight. Others feel that the death penalty is too merciful and that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should instead spend the rest of his life suffering in a maximum security prison. A possible life sentence would most likely be served at ADX Florence, a maximum security prison deemed “The Alcatraz of the Rockies” where many other high profile criminals -such as the Unabomber – have carried out life sentences under the radar.

Although a slightly less popular opinion among Boston voters, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s defense argues that the older and more radical Tamerlan coerced Dzhokar into participating in the bombing. It is believed that Tamerlan supplied all of the supplies for the bombing and was solely responsible for the police shoot out which resulted in the death of MIT police officer Sean Collier and the loss of his own life. Testimonies from paramedics who treated the brothers after the shoot out also highlight the stark contrasts between the brothers. While Tamerlan resisted attempts to treat his injuries, Dzhokar was polite and corporative with paramedics. These testimonies mirror the words of other witnesses throughout the trial. Friends describe Dzhokhar as “… fun, laid back, friendly”. A former teacher described Dhzokar, saying “he wasn’t a rebel, if you asked him to do something, he’d do it.”  Although this statement describes him as normally well-behaved, it may also speak to Dzhokar’s obedience to his older brother. Although the bombing was seemingly led by Tamerlan, he is no longer alive to guide Dzhokhar through the trial.

Is Dzhokar Tsarnaev a hardened criminal or a misguided young man who got caught up in his brother’s radicalism? Is the death penalty worse than a life sentence? Which is more ethical in these circumstances? What punishment does he deserve for his part in the Boston Marathon bombing?

Carrie Robinson graduated from DePauw University in 2017 with an anthropology major and economics minor. She is from Dublin, Ohio.
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