On May 15, a federal jury sentenced Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death for his role in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, a stunning incident that left 17 dead and more than 250 seriously wounded. Though there was no trouble establishing Tsarnaev’s guilt, the jury’s job was to determine the appropriate punishment. The prosecution argued that Tsarnaev deserved the death penalty, while Tsarnaev’s lawyers argued in favor of life imprisonment. The jury went with the former, making a decision that has raised many questions. An appropriate sentence would punish Tsarnaev while establishing closure, and the death penalty ruling may not accomplish these goals.
Giving Dzhokhar Tsarnaev the death penalty unnecessarily prolongs the case. The appeals process for capital punishment is a long and costly ordeal. These appeals will lead to increased media attention for Tsarnaev and his corrupted ideals as the process drags on. One of the motives for terrorism is recognition, and to increase attention for their cause. The more airtime Tsarnaev gets, the more people are exposed to his gospel of destruction. If an aspiring suicide bomber took note of the ruckus surrounding Tsarnaev, wouldn’t he come to the conclusion that perhaps a similar act of terrorism would provoke the same response? Life imprisonment for Tsarnaev would be a better option because it would remove him from relevancy. By giving Tsarnaev more media time, we are helping him spread his message and showing other potential terrorists that violence is an effective means of making a statement.
In theory, the death sentence is the harshest penalty the justice system could possibly mete. However, theory does not always apply to practice, as is the case here. If we put Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death, we are not dealing punishment, but rather we are elevating him to a new level. When Dzhokhar and his brother planted their pressure-cooker bombs near the marathon finish line on that tragic April day, they knew exactly what the probable consequences were. Like many other radical Islamic terrorists, they wanted to die while advancing their cause. Executing Tsarnaev may cause him to be seen as a hero in radical Islamist circles, igniting pernicious inspiration in the hearts of other potential terrorists.
Of course, the jury decision’s does not constitute the entirety of the problem. The media has dedicated a large amount of time to Tsarnaev and his personal life. Rolling Stone had a controversial magazine cover featuring a close-up of Tsarnaev, an honor usually reserved for rock stars. Though the media does have the right to share information about mass murderers, it sometimes raises the killers to celebrity status, serving as encouragement to future killers. Also, closure cannot be achieved if the media allows a murderer’s presence to permeate through our culture. Perhaps media outlets can draw our attention to rebuilding communities, as well as to stories of the victims’ struggles and resilience in the wake of calamity. This would show that the people’s spirit cannot be broken by acts of terrorism.
Understandably, the jury wanted the full power of the law to come down on Tsarnaev for his role in the atrocity. However, by doing this we are simply bringing more years of crooked spectacle. The right thing to do is to give Tsarnaev life in prison with no possibility of parole, and let the world move on. It is better to let him rot in obscurity than to give him a spotlight in the executioner’s room.