The parents of the Boston Marathon bombing’s youngest victim have spoken out, urging federal prosecutors to spare convicted bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev from the death penalty. In an essay published on the front page of Friday’s Boston Globe , Bill and Denise Richard, parents of 8-year-old Martin Richard, write that they support the Department of Justice “taking the death penalty off the table in exchange for the defendant spending the rest of his life in prison.” Tsarnaev’s trial ended in conviction on all 30 counts against him last week, and the next phase — to determine his sentence — will begin Tuesday.
Tsarnaev and his older brother planted two pressure-cooker bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on 15 April 2013. When the bombs detonated, the Richard family was standing nearby; Martin died, while his sister, Jane, lost a leg. But despite their grievances, the Richards' Friday op-ed is measured and humane. “We understand all too well the heinousness and brutality of the crimes committed,” they write. “The defendant murdered our eight-year-old son, maimed our seven-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.”
Instead, Martin’s parents want the attention on Tsarnaev be dimmed, allowing their family to heal and rebuild. For that to happen, they exhort the Department of Justice to forego the death penalty in exchange for handing Tsaernaev a life sentence, without the possibility of parole or the right to appeal. This, they write, might allow the story of the Marathon Bombing to be defined “by the resiliency of the human spirit and the rallying cries of this great city” rather than by Tsarnaev’s actions. The essay is titled “To end the anguish, drop the penalty.” Throughout, the Richards refer to Tsarnaev as “the defendant.”
Three people, including Martin, died and 264 were injured in the bombing. Prosecutors have argued that Tsarnaev, an ethnic Chechen who was only 19 at the time of the bombing, deserves execution, for an act that the defendant claimed was intended as revenge for U.S. military campaigns in Muslim-dominated countries. Tsarnaev and his older brother Tamerlan moved to the U.S. as small children. Tamerlan, 26, was killed in a gunfight with police following the bombing, and Tsarnaev’s defense attorneys have argued that the younger brother was simply following the lead of his ideologically driven older sibling.
Massachusetts ruled capital punishment unconstitutional over thirty years back, and it remains to be seen whether the Richards appeal has any effect on the sentencing phase, during which more testimony will be heard. The case’s jury is specifically composed of “death-qualified” jurors — twelve individuals who stated they were neither for or against the death penalty. A vote for the death penalty must be unanimous. In such a case, according to The Guardian, Tsarnaev would be transported to a faculty in Indiana to be executed.
Will the Richards' desires count for anything? There are arguments both for and against taking victims’ opinions into account when considering the death penalty. Although victims have a right to give testimony and make their views heard, at the end of the day, the decision rests with the court. Whether or not the Richards’ statement makes a crucial difference to the eventual sentence, they have certainly been heard. The U.S. attorney for Massahusetts, Carmen Ortiz, said Friday that she was ware of the Richards’ wishes, but couldn’t comment on whether such a deal could be reached with Tsarnaev’s representative. Reuters quotes Ortiz as saying:
I care deeply about their views and the views of the other victims and survivors… As the case moves forward we will continue to do all we can to protect and vindicate those injured and those who have passed away.
The sister of Sean Collier, a police officer who was shot and killed by the Tsarnaev brothers in the bombing’s aftermath, has also asked prosecutors to halt their push for a death sentence. The families of the other victims, Krystle Campbell, 29, and Lingzi Lu, 23, have so far not weighed in. For their part, the Richards attended almost every day of Tsarnaev’s trial, and have clearly had enough of the emotionally exhausting process.
“As long as the defendant is in the spotlight,” their essay reads, “we have no choice but to live a story told on his terms, not ours. The minute the defendant fades from our newspapers and TV screens is the minute we begin the process of rebuilding our lives and our family.”
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