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Does the Boston Marathon Bomber Deserve the Death Penalty?

By Sara Owre

The New Yorker
The New Yorker

It has been 21 months since tragedy struck the athletes, families and citizens participating in the Boston Marathon. On April 15, 2013, two homemade bombs exploded near the finish line of the race, killing three people and injuring over 200 others. In the immediate aftermath of the event, the FBI launched an investigation to find and prosecute the individuals responsible for causing widespread pain and anguish. After two years of thorough investigation, the trial of the main suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has arrived. Tsarnaev is facing many charges, including the deaths of the three victims on April 15 and injuries to other involved individuals. If he is found guilty, he faces either life in prison without parole or the death penalty.

Tsarnaev’s trial will not focus on determining his guilt but rather trying to answer the question of whether he deserves to continue living or face execution. Many people would be quick to claim that Tsarnaev gave up his right to live when he shamelessly killed three people and had the intent of killing even more in a terrorist attack. That he does not have enough humanity in him to deem him worthy of a longer life. Many people affected by his attack are so hurt and angry that they are unable to see that underneath his horrible and twisted mind he is still a human just like they are. However, a large number of people, including his lawyer, Judy Clarke, believe he still has the right to live and see the death penalty as inhumane and cruel. While some people might disagree with Clarke and see her as a sympathizer of “evil” criminals, her efforts are admirable in reality.

Judy Clarke is one of the top defense lawyers in the country. She has defended multiple murderers, mass-shooters, and terrorists, including a 9/11 conspiracist and the Unabomber. Clarke’s trademark is how she always builds her arguments around saving the lives of her clients. When defending clients who have committed unspeakably horrible crimes, Clarke attempts to defend not their innocence but their lives. She spends months, sometimes years, preparing for a trial, gathering as much information as she can about her client. She is able to develop relationships with her clients in order to find the humanity that still resides in them after committing horrible acts. She then uses this information and understanding of her client to present them as a human in front of the jury.

“This is not a case about evil. This is a case about despair and sadness,” Clarke told the jury of one case, in which she defended Susan Smith, a mother convicted of murdering her two sons.

The death penalty is a horrible aspect of our justice system and the fact that it is still practiced in this modern era is astounding. Killing another human is always wrong and should have no exceptions. We have established this much in our courts as murder and manslaughter are crimes worthy of a decent amount of time behind bars. Why should the death penalty be an exception to this rule?

The government should not have the ability to condemn individuals for killing each other and also reserve the right to kill when they see fit. It seems corrupt, ironic and condescending that our justice system decides when it is acceptable to end someone’s life. Every criminal is a human, one with questionable morals, but a human nonetheless and none of them should be denied life simply by being judged by their weakest moment. To impose the death penalty on a defendant is to judge them on a time in their life when they momentarily lost bearing on their humanity.

Tsarnaev has caused death, injury, fear and other physical and emotional pain to a large number of people. With the intent to kill, he attacked a happy event where families and friends were present. He should not be easily forgiven for all this anguish he caused, but like all of us he is still human and does not deserve to die prematurely. Tsarnaev should be sentenced to life in prison. He should have a long, hard life and spend years contemplating his actions and what went wrong in his life to lead up to the moment when he set off the bomb. But he should not be killed, and if Judy Clarke has her way she will see to it that he isn’t. Inflicting the death penalty only continues the cruel cycle of death and sadness. After tragedies involving the loss of life, we should try to prevent any more people from dying instead of insisting anyone be killed as punishment. Clarke should not be seen as a horrible person for sympathizing with killers. She should instead be honored for her ability to recognize the immense sadness in these situations and express a sense of humanity as she attempts to save the lives of all her defendants.


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