Last updated on: 6/24/2015 | Author:

Tsarnaev and the Death Penalty

Should the Boston bomber be executed?

Update – 6/24/2015: Judge formally sentences Tsarnaev to death

“‘I am sorry for the lives that I’ve taken, for the suffering that I’ve caused you, and the damage that I’ve done,’ convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev said Tuesday during his formal sentencing.

His apology was the first time Tsarnaev spoke in court since he entered a not guilty plea in July 2013…

Tsarnaev was then formally sentenced to the death penalty.”
Source: Zeninjor Enwemeka, “Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: ‘I Am Sorry For The Lives That I’ve Taken,'”, June 24, 2015

“Judge George O’Toole formally sentenced Tsarnaev to death, a decision already made by a federal jury.

‘Whenever your name is mentioned, what will be remembered is the evil you did,’ the judge told him. ‘What will be remembered is you murdered and maimed innocent people.'”
Source: Ann O’Neill, Aaron Cooper, and Ray Sanchez, “Boston Bomber Tells Victims He’s Sorry as Judge Formally Sentences Him to Death,”, June 24, 2015

Update – 5/15/2015: Tsarnaev gets the death penalty

“A jury in Boston voted Friday [May 15, 2015] to execute Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, refuting his lawyers’ argument that he was pulled into the plot by his radicalized Muslim older brother and overcoming Massachusetts’ popular opposition to the death penalty.

After he is formally sentenced by a judge, Tsarnaev will likely end up at the U.S. Bureau of Prison’s death row in Terre Haute, Indiana, where he is expected to embark on an appeals process that could last years before he is finally killed by lethal injection. At 21, he will become the youngest person on federal death row.”
Source: Tom Winter, Andy Thibault, and Jon Schuppe, “Tsarnaev Sentenced to Death in Boston Bombing Trial,”, May 15, 2015

Intro: The Apr. 15, 2013 bombing at the Boston Marathon was the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil since Sep. 11, 2001. One of the attackers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was killed by police. The other attacker, Tamerlan’s brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was apprehended, tried, and convicted on 30 charges. The jury has entered the sentencing phase, and is deciding whether or not Tsarnaev should get the death penalty for his crimes.

Some people believe that life in prison without parole is a better option than the death penalty because a life sentence costs less than the death penalty or because the death penalty is immoral, among other reasons. Others believe that the death penalty should be used for retribution in this case, and that Dzhokhar’s execution may deter future crimes.

To help people better understand this case and issues surrounding the death penalty in general, we present several pro and con quotes about whether or not Tsarnaev should get the death penalty. We also include a summary of the attack, the trial, and the sentencing phase, along with a list of related links.



Summary of Events (click to expand)
The Crime
“On April 15, 2013, two bombs went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three spectators and wounding more than 260 other people. Four days later, after an intense manhunt that shut down the Boston area, police captured one of the bombing suspects, 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, whose older brother and fellow suspect, 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev, died following a shootout with law enforcement earlier that same day…

Investigators have suggested the Tsarnaevs were motivated by extremist Islamic beliefs but planned and carried out the bombings on their own and were not connected to any terrorist groups. The brothers allegedly used the Internet to learn how to build explosives.” Staff, “Boston Marathon Bombings,” (accessed Apr. 10, 2015)

The Trial
Tsarnaev’s defense lawyer admitted his guilt in her opening statement, saying, “It was him.” She went on to assert that his older brother was responsible for planning the attack and building the bombs: “We need to understand who was leading and who was following.”2

The government called 92 witnesses over 15 days. After 11 hours of deliberations, the jury found Tsarnaev guilty of all 30 charges on Apr. 8, 2015. In total, 17 charges for which he was found guilty (such as use of a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death and possession and use of a firearm during a crime of violence) carry the possibility of the death penalty.3

The Sentencing Phase
Process: “US District Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. will hold a second phase of the trial, in which prosecutors and defense lawyers will give opening statements, present witnesses and evidence, and give closing arguments supporting their arguments about what penalty Tsarnaev deserves…

Many of the charges Tsarnaev was convicted of are capital crimes, and US Attorney General Eric Holder filed a Notice of Intent in January 2014 citing what are known as ‘aggravating’ factors that call for the death penalty: They include Tsarnaev’s intentional killing and infliction of injuries, the grave risk of death to more than one person, the substantial planning and premeditation in the crimes, and the ‘heinous, cruel, and depraved manner’ of carrying out the crimes…

First, before determining whether Tsarnaev should be sentenced to death, they must determine that he knowingly committed the acts, and that prosecutors had proven at least one aggravating factor. Then, the jurors can weigh aggravating factors against mitigating factors…

But jurors don’t have to reach consensus on the types of aggravating and mitigating factors. What matters is their vote on the death penalty or life in prison… If a jury is not unanimous in that decision, the judge will hand out a sentence of life imprisonment.”
Milton J. Valencia and Patricia Wen, “After the Conviction of Tsarnaev, What Happens Next?,” Boston Globe, Apr. 8, 2015

Length: “I think it’s more likely going to be measured in weeks as opposed to days.” If the jury votes for the death penalty, Tsarnaev will “still probably not be sentenced to death that day. The sentencing would probably be put off for three to four months while post-trial motions are filed… The post-trial motions may take three to four months… Appeals can take quite a long time. This is a long complicated case. I think you’re talking years.”
David Hoose, JD, as quoted in “The Penalty Phase: What Happens Next In The Tsarnaev Trial,” by Zeninjor Enwemeka,, Apr. 8, 2015

Jury Views on Death Penalty
“During the jury selection process, when potential jurors were asked about their views on the death penalty, a striking number of them said they thought life in prison was actually a worse fate for a 21-year-old like Tsarnaev than death.

One of the jurors who will decide Tsarnaev’s fate, a man who works for a municipal water department, said the death penalty can be ‘the easy way out.’

Another juror, a woman who works for a school system down the Cape, said she thought death was a worse punishment. ‘Life in prison is a horrible life,’ she said, ‘but it’s a life.’

Another juror, a telecommunications engineer, said he was on the fence about what was worse.

Still another, a student whose mother came from Iran, said he believed the death penalty can sometimes be merciful.

‘I think it takes away the burden of a person’s soul,’ he said…

[E]very juror who sat on this case had to swear that they were willing to impose the death penalty and could put their moral qualms aside.”
Kevin Cullen, “Are We Going to Kill Dzhokhar Tsarnaev or Not?,” Boston Globe, Apr. 8, 2015

PRO Death Penalty for Tsarnaev CON Death Penalty for Tsarnaev
NBC News stated the following in its Apr. 8, 2015 article titled “Americans Divided over Death for Boston Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Poll Finds,” available at

“The poll, conducted by NBC News and SurveyMonkey, found 47 percent of those questioned want Tsarnaev to be executed, while 42 percent would prefer he be imprisoned for life. Eleven percent weren’t sure…

Older Americans surveyed were more likely to want the death penalty than those under 30. Half those surveyed who are over the age of 30 said they want Tsarnaev to be executed, compared to 34 percent of those under 30 years of age.”

Andrea Cohen, co-host of Boston Herald Drive on Herald Radio, stated the following in her Apr. 9, 2015 opinion column titled “Death Sentence Would Send Strong Message to Enemies,” published on

“The jury has one more job to do: Sentence Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death.

The heinous acts of murder, terrorism and bloodshed he committed warrant death. But more importantly, the death penalty will send a strong message to ISIS, al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other radical terror armies and lone wolves.

If you attack our country and kill Americans you will receive the maximum penalty. Period.”

Jonah Goldberg, National Review Senior Editor, stated the following in his article titled “Tsarnaev Deserves the Death Penalty, and So Might Michael Slager,” published Apr. 10, 2015 on

“Tsarnaev knowingly left a bomb next to a family on a family outing. Martin William Richard, eight years old, died. [Martin’s] sister Jane lost a leg. His mother lost an eye…

Tsarnaev is, literally, a traitorous, child-murdering cop killer. He became a citizen on September 11, 2012, and by the spring he was plotting to blow up as many Americans as he could. If we can’t take that seriously, we can’t take anything seriously…

Tsarnaev had his [day in court] — and now he deserves death. It is honorable to oppose the death penalty on moral grounds. But it is dishonorable to blow smoke about uncertainty in other cases when there is certainty in this one.”

Dan Collins, JD, former federal prosecutor, stated the following as quoted by the Associated Press in an Apr. 8, 2015 article titled “Tsarnaev Guilty on All Charges in Boston Marathon Bombing,” available at

“When you ask people their opinion of the death penalty, there are a number who say it should only be reserved for the horrific cases. Here you have what is one of the most horrific acts of terrorism on U.S. soil in American history, so if you are going to reserve the death penalty for the worst of the worse, this is it.”

Liz Norden, mother of two men who each lost a leg in the bombings, stated the following on the program All Things Considered, in a Jan. 30, 2014 transcript titled “The U.S. Will Seek the Death Penalty for Boston Bombing Suspect,” available at

“I don’t know if the word is satisfying but it [the announcement that the US would seek the death penalty] does give some relief, like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders… I mean, I watch my kids suffer every day. I watch their friends. I just see it destroys families. It’s killed people. I just don’t foresee what’s the sense of letting him rot in jail. I honestly think the death penalty is warranted.”

Niki Tsongas, US Representative (D-MA), stated the following as quoted by David Scharfenberg in his Apr. 9, 2015 article “Top Lawmakers Oppose Tsarnaev’s Execution,” available at

“I am strongly opposed to the death penalty; however I do believe there is an exception for instances of terrorism. The heinous acts at the Boston Marathon certainly did rise to that level, and therefore I felt it was appropriate for the prosecution to seek the death penalty.”

Charlie Baker, MBA, now Governor of Massachusetts, stated the following as quoted by local news site BostInno in a Jan. 2014 article by Nick DeDulca titled “Leading Mass. Gubernatorial Candidates Make Statements on Tsarnaev Case”:

“The accused marathon bomber tried and failed to tear Boston apart in a despicable, cowardly act. The prosecution is absolutely right to seek the death penalty.”

Kevin Corcoran, a victim of the bombings whose wife lost both of her legs and whose daughter was also injured in the blast, stated the following as quoted by the Boston Globe in its Jan. 4, 2015 article titled “Marathon Bombing Survivors Gird Themselves for Tsarnaev’s Day in Court”:

“We never use his name. I have never said his name… He gave up his right to breathe air and walk with the rest of us as soon as he hit that activator to detonate that bomb. I don’t care how old he is, I don’t care that his brother could have influenced him. I don’t care. He is an adult.”

Ed Davis, Boston Police Commissioner at the time of the bombings, stated the following on the Fox News Channel program Your World With Neil Cavuto, which aired on Apr. 9, 2015:

“I believe that the death penalty should be considered here… due to the atrocity of these crimes, the fact that they targeted an innocent woman and a child, the assassination of a police officer… This man’s declared war on the United States, and I think he should be held accountable for it in the most appropriate way, which I believe is the death penalty.”

Jonathan Kay, JD, Managing Editor for Comment at the National Post at the time of the quote, stated the following in his Feb. 1, 2014 article titled “Why Alleged Boston Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, If Convicted, Deserves to Die,” available at

“[T]he U.S. Department of Justice declared that it will seek the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who allegedly bombed the 2013 Boston Marathon, killing three people (including an eight-year-old child) and injuring 260. He has shown no remorse, and everything we know about the crime indicates that it was committed for no reason except to inflict random slaughter on the residents of a country that welcomed the Tsarnaev family as refugees.

It is the very definition of evil… And if convicted, Tsarnaev should pay with his life. ‘The very ashes of the dead’ demand nothing less.”

Zeninjor Enwemeka, stated the following in her Mar. 23, 2015 article “WBUR Poll: Most in Boston Think Tsarnaev Should Get Life in Prison over Death Penalty,” available at

“In a survey of 229 registered Boston voters, 62 percent said Tsarnaev should be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, while 27 percent said he should receive the death penalty…

Men were more in favor of the death penalty in this case than life in prison, while women more strongly favored life in prison over the death penalty.”

James Alan Fox, PhD, Lipman Professor of Criminology, Law, and Public Policy at Northeastern University, stated the following in his Apr. 8, 2015 article titled “Why Tsarnaev Should Not Get the Death Penalty,” published in USA Today:

“If the government is indeed successful in persuading the jury to recommend death, it will fail to bring the kind of closure that many of the victims and their survivors are anticipating. Just the opposite might occur.

A sentence of death will likely transform Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, an amateur terrorist, into a martyr for all those here and abroad who hate America. Better that he drift off into the obscurity of some dark and distant prison cell without the continued news media focus that an execution would bring.

Life without parole is an outcome we can all live with.”

Bill and Denise Richard, whose son Martin was killed in the bombings, stated the following in their Apr. 16, 2015 article titled “To End the Anguish, Drop the Death Penalty,” published at

“We are in favor of and would support the Department of Justice in taking the death penalty off the table in exchange for the defendant spending the rest of his life in prison without any possibility of release and waiving all of his rights to appeal.

We understand all too well the heinousness and brutality of the crimes committed. We were there. We lived it. The defendant murdered our 8-year-old son, maimed our 7-year-old daughter, and stole part of our soul. We know that the government has its reasons for seeking the death penalty, but the continued pursuit of that punishment could bring years of appeals and prolong reliving the most painful day of our lives.”

Seán P. O’Malley, OFM, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Boston, et al., stated the following in their Apr. 7, 2015 “A Statement of the Roman Catholic Bishops of Massachusetts on the Death Penalty,” available at

“The defendant in this case has been neutralized and will never again have the ability to cause harm. Because of this, we, the Catholic Bishops of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, believe that society can do better than the death penalty. As the Bishops of the United States said in their 2005 statement A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death, ‘no matter how heinous the crime, if society can protect itself without ending a human life, it should do so.’ We believe these words remain true today in the face of this most terrible crime.”

Elizabeth Warren, US Senator (D-MA), stated the following on the program CBS This Morning on Apr. 9, 2015, available at

“You know, my heart goes out to the families here, but I don’t support the death penalty. I think that he should spend his life in jail. No possibility of parole; he should die in prison. He’s not somebody who tries to then — or is able to — keep sucking up a lot of energy and a lot of attention. The families need their chance to heal, to move on beyond this, and I think that’s what really matters most.”

Michael Capuano, US Representative (D-MA), stated the following as quoted by David Scharfenberg in his Apr. 9, 2015 article “Top Lawmakers Oppose Tsarnaev’s Execution,” available at

“Imposing it [the death penalty] won’t undo the death and destruction Tsarnaev caused two years ago. The defendant has expressed a wish to die a martyr. I prefer that he have many years to reflect on his crimes.”

John Miller, Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism for the New York City Police Department, stated the following on CBS This Morning on Apr. 9, 2015, available at

“One of the things they raised in the paper today is, don’t give him what he wants… I would be less concerned with what Tsarnaev wants. I would be concerned with what that might mean to groups like ISIS and al Qaeda who would use that to promote his martyrdom for the cause.”

The Boston Bar Association stated in a Feb. 25, 2015 news release titled “Statement by BBA President Julia Huston on the Trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev,” available at

“On the eve of final jury selection, the Boston Bar Association (BBA) respectfully asks the Department of Justice to seek a life sentence without parole instead of the death penalty. We believe that this can more swiftly close this chapter in our city’s history and return the focus to healing.

The attack on the Marathon broke the hearts of every person who lives in or loves Boston, and no one will ever forget what terrible losses the victims have suffered. As a further symbol of community unity, let’s not align ourselves with a capital punishment system that is so deeply flawed.”

Montgomery J. Granger, a retired U.S. Army Reserve Major who served as a medical officer at a Guantanamo Bay temporary detention facility, stated the following in his Apr. 10, 2015 article “Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: Death is Too Good for Him,” published by The Blaze:

“Death is too good for [Dzhokhar Tsarnaev]. Life without parole in solitary confinement with no outside contact would suit him best. Death is a quitter’s game. Let him live in complete misery and regret. No reading material. No writing material. And on constant suicide watch. Would he go crazy? So what? Keep him there…

If trials and consequences are about restitution and punishment then the death penalty is no penalty at all in this case, it is relief to the condemned. It’s not as much about right and wrong as it is about doing what’s necessary to punish the guilty.”

The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board stated the following in its Apr. 9, 2015 article titled “Boston Marathon Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Shouldn’t Get Death Penalty,” available at

“[T]he real reason to spare Tsarnaev’s life is that no crime warrants the death penalty. The jury should reject capital punishment and sentence Tsarnaev to life in prison without possibility of parole because that is how a mature society acts. Not out of vengeance. Not out of passion. Killing another human being is immoral, whether by bomb or by lethal injection…

Tsarnaev deserves no sympathy. But he should not die at the hands of his government. To execute Tsarnaev would be to adopt the mentality of terrorists, who seek to sway the actions of others through violence. This country is — or at least should be — better than that.”


Related Links:

1. State Death Penalty Laws
2. Top 10 Pros and Cons: Should the death penalty be allowed?
3. History of the Death Penalty from the Code of Hammurabi in 1700s BC to present
4. 41 Federal Capital Offenses
5. Top Pro & Con Quotes: Should the death penalty be allowed?


1. Scott Malone and Elizabeth Barber, “Accused Boston Bomber Followed Brother’s Lead, Defense Argues,”, Apr. 6, 2015
2. WBUR Newsroom, “The 30 Charges and Verdicts against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev,”, Apr. 8, 2015