Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Boston: Stronger than Retribution

On Monday, Lelisa Desisa crossed the finish line at the Boston Marathon as the first place finisher for the men in a very crowded field of runners. The race drew more than 27,000 people, beyond the elite runners such as Desisa and the women's winner, Caroline Rotich of Kenya. People wanted to be part of this event and show their support for the city and the sport of running throughout its suburbs. 

Desisa had won the marathon in 2013, but his victory was not the story that day. Two brothers, moved by Islamic fundamentalism, marred the event with a bomb at the finish line which killed three people and injured more than 260 others. It had the desired effect of terrifying a city, and putting it under lock down for several hours as police hunted for the bombers. One of them, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was killed in a shootout with police. But the younger brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was found bleeding and hiding in a boat in Watertown. In the days leading up to this year's race, a jury found the younger Tsarnaev guilty on all 30 federal counts against him. The day after this year's race, the jurors were back to work in the sentencing phase of the trial.

Understandably, federal prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. They are making sure the jurors see the images of the 8-year old boy and the other two victims who were killed by the callous and calculated act of the Tsarnaev brothers to plant a bomb in a backpack at the finish line of the marathon. They've shown the photo of him giving the finger to a security camera at the prison. They want the jurors to know that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev feels no remorse, no sympathy, no regret for any of his actions. He has no regard for the lives he and his brother have destroyed or the people who have been left with prosthetic limbs for the rest of their lives because of him. Without saying it, the prosecutors want the jurors to view Tsarnaev as not human, but a monster.

This is their job.

Perhaps the ones with the more difficult task are the lawyers representing Tsarnaev. They'll be wanting the jury to see the human being, the young man, the boy under the influence of his older brother, Tamerlan, who they say was the real mastermind of the plot. They'll strive to show Dzhokhar was a good kid until he started hanging with the wrong crowd, a crowd of one, who happened to be his brother. They'll talk about his family life, and all in the hopes that they will spare Dzhokhar Tsarnaev the death penalty.

And they might just be able to do it. It only takes one person to say, "No" to keep a convicted murderer off the gurney. And this trial is in Massachusetts which is probably more Roman Catholic than most of Italy. The Roman Catholic ethic of life is given more than lip service there: 60-percent of the people surveyed by WBUR-FM in Boston said they opposed the death penalty for Tsarnaev. 

Even those most directly affected by his heinous crime have asked that his life be spared. The parents of the youngest victim, an eight year-old boy named Martin Richard, whose sister was also maimed in the attack, have said they do not want him killed. For them, the death penalty spells more appeals, and more time, and more court cases, and more reliving the horrible event of that day. Putting him away for the rest of his life, in their opinion, would mean this chapter is written and finished. 

It's unlikely the jurors will hear from the Richard family or other victims and families who would prefer to see Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's name become a by-word rather than make him a martyr to religious-based terror groups. Prosecutors seeking the death penalty don't like for the victim's family to complicate things by speaking their truth that they prefer life without parole. Once again, capital punishment is proving more divisive than dealing a victory for justice.  

I can understand the desire to put Tsarnaev to death. I was shaken when I saw the images of chaos on Bolysten Street in Boston on the television. The marathon is such a joyous and upbeat event that it was inconceivable that anyone would disrupt it so viciously with a bomb, and do such physical harm to so many. And even though I now live far away from New England, I felt anxious for all my friends in the city who found themselves, literally, in a lock down situation as the police got word of the whereabouts of the bombers and were in hot pursuit. I was amazed the cops were able to catch either one of them, and I'm glad they were able to bring the younger Tsarnaev to justice. Whether he is remorseful or not doesn't matter to me. He intended to do harm, and he succeeded in that. 

However, just as the rallying cry became "Boston Strong" to show that the city would not be brought down by a bombing, I believe the city is made stronger if it refuses to meet Tsarnaev in his blood thirst for murder. He would welcome the death penalty as a badge of honor. And it would make the city of Boston no different than the Tsarnaev brothers.. Tsarnaev's death will do nothing to change the events of that particular Patriot Day in the spring of 2013. Bill and Denise Richard know this. Other survivors have said it. It just takes one person on the jury to believe it and state it as well. One juror who will close the book on this bloody and horrible chapter in the history of the Boston Marathon by having the strength to say, "No" to killing the killer.