Will the Boston Bomber Be Executed?

Pleading guilty may be Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s best hope of escaping death

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Lethal injection death chamber in Huntsville, Texas.

Even as doctors nurse the accused Boston bomber back to health, federal prosecutors in Washington are considering whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be put to death. If convicted and given the death penalty, Tsarnaev would be strapped to a table and injected with a lethal cocktail of chemicals, possibly at the same Indiana federal prison where the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, was executed twelve years ago.

But that outcome will only be possible if Attorney General Eric Holder asks for capital punishment for Tsarnaev’s role in the April 15 Boston marathon bombings, a sentence made possible by the charge that Tsarnaev used a weapon of a mass destruction in the attack.

That seems likely. Prominent Democratic senators are calling for the death penalty against Tsarnaev, and his legal team seems to expect it. In the case of the accused 9/11 plotters, Holder has called execution a means of achieving “justice.”

(MORE: Tsarnaev Snafus: Nearly 12 Years After 9/11, Boston Bombings Highlight Intelligence Holes)

Still, Holder will make his decision at a moment of declining popular support for the death penalty, and amid a years-long halt in federal executions. Since 1963, only three federal convicts have been put to death—all of them between 2001 and 2003. Another 59 federal convicts are now on death row, according to Robert Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. Most of their cases are tangled up in the years-long appeals process and none have execution dates scheduled.

That’s a contrast to the pace of the mid-20th century, when dozen of convicts were hanged, gassed and electrocuted. Some were extreme cases of national security, like the six German would-be saboteurs captured on U.S. soil in 1942, and the Cold War spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, dispatched by electric chair in 1953. Others were an assortment of kidnappers, rapists, killers and bank robbers.

(PHOTOS: Images: Joy and Relief in Boston After Bombing Suspect’s Arrest)

In the late 1960s, most executions in the U.S. stopped after legal challenges to state death penalty laws. But even the Supreme Court declared the punishment acceptable in 1976 and most states resumed the practice, the federal government did not.

A turning point came in 1988, when Ronald Reagan signed a law imposing capital punishment for drug-related killings—a response to a national drug epidemic. Michael Dukakis opposed the death penalty in his presidential campaign that year, an unpopular stance that Bill Clinton was accused of compensating for when, as a governor running for president in 1992, he denied clemency for a condemned Arkansas man with severe mental impairment.

(MORE: Hope Amid Dispair: Sermons After the Boston Bombings)

As president, Clinton pushed for and signed a 1994 crime bill that extended capital punishment to more than 60 new offenses, including terrorism and weapons of mass destruction use—charges that enabled the death penalty for McVeigh, who carried out his attack in 1995 and was put to death in June 2001.

As it happens, Holder has described himself as death penalty opponent, although he has also said he would enforce capital punishment laws, and as attorney general he has done so. When he sought to try the September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad in a New York federal court a few years ago, for instance, Holder defended the plan, in part, by arguing that KSM was likelier to get a death sentence in a civilian court rather than from a military commission.

Still, the federal government has not scheduled an execution under Obama, who says he supports capital punishment in rare cases. Since at least 2010 the Justice Department has been reviewing its execution protocols, thanks to a nationwide shortage of the lethal injection drug sodium thiopental. The death penalty has also grown politically controversial, as the advent of reliable DNA evidence testing has exposed wrongful convictions in capital cases. Polling still shows nearly two-thirds of Americans support executions in murder cases, but that number is down from a 1992 peak of 80 percent. (A majority of Americans have not opposed capital punishment since the mid 1960s, according to Gallup.)

(MORE: Political Debate Over Boston Bombings Races Ahead Of Investigation)

While putting a convicted terrorist to death might seem highly uncontroversial, there is one practical argument against it: that foreign anti-death penalty governments might refuse to extradite terror suspects to America. Secretary of State John Kerry held this position as a U.S. Senator until he ran for president in 2004. Indeed, during the trial of the “20th hijacker” Zacarias Moussaoui, Germany and France  supplied prosecutors with evidence only on the condition that it not be used to support his execution. (Moussaoui was sentenced to life in prison.)

Defense lawyers tell the Boston Globe that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s legal team might try to spare his life by emphasizing his age (nineteen) and the apparent leadership of his deceased older brother. They may also urge him to plead guilty: several notorious killers, including the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, the Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph, and the Tucson shooter, Jared Loughner, all pleaded guilty to their crimes and avoided likely death sentences as a result. In a 2011 Justice Department memo Holder wrote that “a defendant’s willingness to plead guilty will now expressly be recognized as a factor” in deciding whether to pursue capital punishment.

In which case Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s best hope of escaping death by syringe may come down to three simple words: “Guilty as charged.”

MORE: Why the FBI, White House Will Face Hard Questions About Their Boston Bombing Interviews

124 comments
Apolitical_Misanthrope
Apolitical_Misanthrope

Kill the Churka-Ruskie and the country will be safe, but not for long. It's just the officials kept believing this crap political correctness to let them in. I still want the boy dead... it's going to be a bloody fun time with the firing squad for this feeb.

tyleemarkham
tyleemarkham

Obama is personally responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands -- he's the one who deserves the death penalty.

PuritaFleschhut
PuritaFleschhut

Either the gallows or a bullet at the back would be fitting enough for this murderer.

WKSloane
WKSloane

He will be found guilty on the charge of mayhem ( a life sentence), but not on the charge of using a WMD ( designed to avoid the death penalty, i.e. martyrdom).

WKSloane
WKSloane

Acts of treason comprising 4-counts of first degree murder, 190 counts of attempted murder resulting in mayhem against civilians and law enforcement personnel, kidnapping, armed robbery, resisting arrest ... should have been the Federal charges. This guy gets a  life sentence for mayhem -- the charge for using WMD doesn't hold (planned to execution, i.e., martyrdom).     

minaeisenhofer
minaeisenhofer

they deserve it. its time america put their foot down we shouldn't stand for such acts and sitting and having their good little time in prison is NOT good enough. as an american i will not rest until i see that justice is done.

ShelterSomerset
ShelterSomerset

The Left Wing must shake itself from the notion that anyone who disagrees with their socialist agenda is a racist. 

RaymondHietapakka
RaymondHietapakka

Are you more sentimental about housing and feeding some worthless bum for the next sixty years, or do you care about the rest of society that will go without medicine, etc. because we blew the money supporting this worthless sack of szchiddt?

Sticky_Wicky
Sticky_Wicky

What would be a fair & civil punishment for those guilty of terrible crimes? Will capital punishment help build a foundation for a civil society? ow.ly/klfxP

MrBenGhazi
MrBenGhazi

Will he? Who knows. Should he? If proven guilty, yes, I believe so.

anti-government
anti-government

The more pertinent question today is will GW Bush be tried as a war criminal. I'm opposed to the death penalty but if anyone ever deserved it...

IMHO-?
IMHO-?

I wonder why the first legal step would not be to strip him of his citizenship?  We did this for people who lied about being Nazis because they lied.  Seems likely he lied about upholding the Constitution of the United States.

Americangirl
Americangirl

it's sad that he became an American Citizen on 9/11/2012

SamFaksvaag
SamFaksvaag

Responding to PauleJP:

        -- No, I'm not Muslim. Not all things in the world boil down to us vs. them. You might possibly disagree with me, but I am coming at this discussion from what I believe is a factual perspective. My point about violence by terrorists (such as the Boston bombing) and violence by the US military, is that at end of the day both terrible and both should be condemned. In number of deaths, a case could be argued that the US has committed more needless deaths than the terrorists. Though these deaths do not justify terrorism, in a certain way they legitimize the anger that sparked the wrongly actions. Here's an estimate of the Iraqi War deaths (about 1.5 million) that have occurred since the beginning of what I would argue to be a needless war of aggression --compare that number of 9/11 deaths: http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/iraq. Yes, the US military does not typically directly target civilians, but it has recently put great numbers of civilians in harms way through wars of aggression and use of such unethical weapons and tactics as the use of Depleted Uranium weapons, all in ways that could be considered criminal negligence resulting in non-combatant death.  This is the opinion of the  Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal Foundation against the US government leaders of the Second Iraq War, which they consider a criminal war from the start as war of aggression: ttp://criminalisewar.org/tribunal/Judgement%20KLWCT%20May%202012.pdf.   (Here's an explanation of the document: http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=8348

Similarly, a committee of lawyers in Japan, has also condemned actions of the US military in the Afghan War as war crimes: http://globalresearch.ca/articles/TOK403A.html

       --This is not the first time such a committee has accused the US of war crimes: here is the indictment, led by the former US attorney general, Ramsey Clark,  of the First Gulf War: http://deoxy.org/wc/wc-index.htm. This indictment includes incidents of US military targeting civilians directly, such as documentation of the US Air Force, randomly shooting vehicles on the highways in Iraq -- not combatants, just clusters of random drivers. This indictement makes the claim that the US gov “intentionally deprived the Iraqi people of essential medicines, potable water, food, and other necessities.” Also, in regards to the targeting of civilians consider that the UNICEF reported that the sanctions on Iraq and the destruction of the infrastructure, hospitals, water sources, etc. lead to the deaths of half a million children. In response to being questioned about these deaths, Madeline Albright, (the former US Secretary of State) is quoted as saying that “this is a very hard choice, but we think the price is worth it.”

So is the US government, past and current, completely innocent of crimes against humanity, while terrorists such as the Boston bombers are completely guilty? I would argue that both are guilty. Terrorism, criminal negligence, wars of aggression, and the direct targeting of civilian are all war crimes. It seems many people in the world would agree with me: In 2011 & 2012, angry protestors wanting to hold Bush and Cheney accountable for their crimes actually scared them away from events in Canada and Switzerland: http://www.activistpost.com/2012/03/war-criminals-bush-and-cheney-can-no.html.   On Feb 13, millions of people around the world protested against the Iraq War –possible as many as 10 million according to the BBC (who represent a low estimate): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/February_15,_2003_anti-war_protest.

    Here's a general explanation, promoted by Ramsey Clark, as to why much of the world hates the US foreign policy: http://www.addictedtowar.com/atw1a.html

ShawnArscott
ShawnArscott

I did not know that there had been a trial where  Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found guilty. To have to plead guilty to avoid the death penalty - is this not coercion. 

BrianH
BrianH

"(CNN) -- The surviving suspect in the Boston bombings has told investigators he and his brother planned to bomb Times Square, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Thursday.

"Last night we were informed by the FBI that the surviving attacker revealed that New York City was next on their list of targets," Bloomberg said.

The two came up with the plan spontaneously after the Boston bombing, as they talked in an SUV they hijacked, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev initially told investigators that he and his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, had talked about going to New York to "party." Then in a second round of questioning Sunday evening into Monday morning -- during which Kelly said the suspect was "a lot more lucid" than the first time he was interviewed -- he revealed they planned to use their remaining explosives there, Kelly announced.

The plan "fell apart" when the SUV ran low on fuel in the Boston area and the Tsarnaevs ordered the driver to pull into a gas station, Kelly said. The driver escaped during the refueling, he said, and police subsequently caught up with the Tsarnaevs.

The brothers had five pipe bombs and a "pressure-cooker bomb" -- the latter similar to the bombs used in the Boston blasts -- with them in the SUV"

I guess we should give him a bigger cuddle now if this is true.

kellyjo5150
kellyjo5150

The real question is : Will he get Conjugal visitation ?   Thousands of female nutcases will be  feeling soooooooooo sorry for this piece of trash...anyone want to be he will get married at least once...probably the maximum allowable four times.  All will then join him on Mass. welfare.

curt3rd
curt3rd

Set a bomb off near him and let him bleed out.

swagger
swagger

life without parole, super max prison, solitary confinement.  free 100 nonviolent low risk drug criminals out to rehab so that the savings that release creates will pay for the muslim lifer.

hockthai
hockthai

Need to consider the consequences to people's lives are wasted because of him.  What good is it to him?  He wants his 72 virgins, give it to him. No honorable state funeral for this chap, that's for sure. http://www.funeralservicesmy.blogspot.com

minaeisenhofer
minaeisenhofer

government should put their money in something useful if you agree with capital punishment join my Facebook group if you want to watch america crumble at the feet of filthy terrorists then keep doing what your doing because your good at it NOTHING

SukeMadiq
SukeMadiq

@ShelterSomerset 

What are you babbling about Jethro?   What does that have to do with the subject?  Oh nevermind, you are just nuts.

Dstraw86
Dstraw86

@Ami_Zarovsky We know you want to suck this little punk off...but he did this and will pay. Keep your comments to what you had to eat and not discuss things you can comprehend ...Thanks

Promethus9000
Promethus9000

@twyndyllyngs7Heyy, everyone look.. Ignorance at it's best... how about make him your next door neighbor instead?

SukeMadiq
SukeMadiq

@IMHO-? 

The people who wrote the constitution had slaves... Not exactly all men are created equal now was that?

BrianH
BrianH

@ShawnArscott It is an option that could be available for him at trial which may perhaps let him avoid the death penalty, his own legal team will look at options that could avoid the death penalty, it is fair to say he has not been found guilty of anything so far but it certainly does not look like he was not involved at this stage.

And no, it is not coercion

paulejb
paulejb

@kellyjo5150

Ten will get you twenty that the first request from Dzhokhar's taxpayer financed legal team will be for a Koran and a prayer mat for the poor confused young man.

anti-government
anti-government

Of course it's coercion! Prosecutors try to scare people in pleading guilty all the time.

curt3rd
curt3rd

I would not be killing inocent people.

curt3rd
curt3rd

I cant argue with that.