Death Penalty for Tsarnaev

I have deeply mixed feelings about the death penalty, believing with the late Justice Blackmun that that state shouldn’t really be in the business of exacting death. That said, I have little sympathy for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. He mercilessly killed innocent people, including a child. I don’t think he was a bit remorseful.

At the same time the media was reporting on Tsarnaev’s death sentence, the Atlantic had a piece by Jeffrey E. Stern entitled “The Cruel and Unusual Execution of Clayton Lockett”. Oklahoma, where Lockett was convicted and sentenced, has a very pro-death penalty governor, Mary Fallin, who was willing to over-ride a stay issued by the state Supreme Court. Even though Oklahoma¬†couldn’t get a reliable drug cocktail, even though the paramedic couldn’t correctly insert the IV through which the lethal drugs were administered, and even though Lockett was conscious and suffering long enough for those present to feel horrified and wonder if they should stop the procedure, the death penalty was carried out.

We want a veneer of civility when we execute someone. That’s why states have stopped hanging, gassing, or shooting convicts. We make it a quasi-medical procedure, during which the person sentenced to death is expected to feel no pain.

But if Oklahoma is representative of what happens in the death chamber, there’s no veneer.

We killed Tim McVeigh. We didn’t kill the Unabomber. We will kill Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Mercy and justice for the victims? Retribution? Accountability? Why in one case, and not the other? And it’s not civilized. Not at all.

I don’t know how I’d have voted if I’d been on that jury.

4 thoughts on “Death Penalty for Tsarnaev

  1. You don’t have to be morally opposed to the state taking people’s lives to be opposed to the death penalty. The death penalty is actually more expensive than keeping someone in prison for life. (See: There’s also no evidence that it’s a better deterrent to crime or that it has any other practical benefit at all. It’s just bad policy, pure and simple. On the other hand, I think to be opposed to the death penalty for moral reasons is complicated if you are not also a pacifist – the fact is, we kill people all the time in the name of the state, including many innocent people. Americans like to tell ourselves that it’s okay if they’re not US citizens, but I am sure that’s not how the rest of the world sees it.

  2. for Ian: I always cringe a bit when diplomats like Nick Burns say that on the whole, the U.S. is a force for good in the world. I’m not so sure. Lots of people want to come and find their fortunes here, which I suppose says something. But of course we kill people, in war and out. Re the death penalty, I’ve always felt that if I’m not willing to do something, I shouldn’t expect anyone else to do it either, and I’d never in a million years agree to be part of an execution team. So I guess that’s my answer.

  3. I can live with no death penalty (for most cases) as long as those who receive that sentence have no opportunity for release. For some murders which are especially heinous, I have no issues with an execution. Conceptually I can agree with with the notion that we do not have the right to take life (not including war or personal defense). Factually some psychopath spree killers are better off executed – it does not matter to me whether or not capital punishment is not a deterrent. I know that if I saw someone who was putting the life of a loved one in danger, I would take all necessary means to save that loved one.

  4. for Wendy: This young man’s life is over in any case, whether the state puts him to death or not.

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