Tsarnaev’s death sentence was reinstated. But it’s still the wrong punishment.


The decision followed ideological lines. The court’s right-wing justices voted for death, while the three liberal justices united in opposition.

Some in Boston will applaud the decision. Count me among the dissenters. As far as I’m concerned, killing Tsarnaev solves nothing.

Tsarnaev’s death sentence had been overturned by the First Circuit Court of Appeals. These judges felt that Tsarnaev should have been allowed to present evidence that his late older brother, Tamerlane, was the real villain of the script. His alleged involvement in a 2011 triple murder in Watertown is seen by some as crucial evidence that Tamerlan was the dominant criminal mastermind behind the attack, with his hapless younger brother brought in for the ride.

The jury was not allowed to hear about this murder, which some say could have influenced their decision to impose the ultimate sentence.

But the majority judges were not swayed.

“Dzhokhar sought to distract the sentencing jury from a triple homicide Tamerlan allegedly committed years earlier, although there is no allegation that Dzhokhar played a role in this crime,” wrote Justice Clarence Thomas in his majority opinion. “There was also no way to confirm or verify the relevant facts, since all parties involved were dead.”

A second argument on appeal – that jurors should have been questioned more carefully about potential bias resulting from exposure to media coverage of the attack – was also dismissed.

Thus, almost nine years after the attack, the execution of Tsarnaev is back, at least in theory.

In fact, the federal government imposed a moratorium on executions last summer. And that policy is unlikely to change anytime soon, given that President Biden is a staunch opponent of the death penalty. So Tsarnaev probably won’t be executed any time soon.

What would it mean, nine years after the deadly horror of the bombardment, to put Tsarnaev to death? Would that make you feel better?

Most of us have experienced the unforgettable shock of this week. There was the attack itself, followed by the broadcast of the offending video. There was the lockdown, followed by the stunning confrontation and resolution in Watertown.

I remember the city’s justified rage – the intense anger that a pair of would-be jihadists could inflict so much damage, so much injury, in just a few minutes.

But I also remember the outpouring of sympathy and support for the survivors – broken but rebellious – who became instant symbols of a city’s resilience.

The names of the victims – Lingzi Lu, Krystle Campbell, Martin Richard, at the scene; Sean Collier and later Dennis Simmonds are etched forever in Boston history.

Would killing Tsarnaev bring the city, or anyone who mourns the dead, any relief?

To say that capital punishment is a touchy subject in this country would be an understatement. I could easily write 10 more articles about its long history of unfair and unequal enforcement, about the capricious way judges and juries have decided who lives and who dies. It’s for good reason that the support he enjoys has dwindled. It’s barbaric and solves nothing.

I much prefer the punishment of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev condemned to live out his days with himself and his evil deeds in the Supermax prison he will call home for as long as he lives.

I hope he hears the cries of his victims and sees the pain on their faces every day for the rest of his life. Although I oppose the death penalty for many other reasons, in Tsarnaev’s case it would be far too light a sentence.

As for the rest of us, peace would be a far better outcome than mostly empty retaliation. Eight-year-old Martin Richard left behind a poignant cry for peace: “No more harm to people.

This statement was a lesson in moral clarity.

Killing Tsarnaev would be his polar opposite. I hope he receives the worst punishment imaginable: to live with himself.


Adrian Walker is a columnist for The Globe. He can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.

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