How Will Tsarnaev Be Executed?

by Chris Tognotti

On Friday afternoon, a Boston jury made it official: Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was senteneced to death for his role in the horrific attack, meaning he's got an execution somewhere on the horizon — after the requisite years and years of appeals that naturally follow a death sentence, of course. But the politics of capital punishment have become complicated through the years, and there's a question you might be curious about: how will Dzhokhar Tsarnaev be executed, whenever it finally happens?

It's a particularly relevant question right now, because the way the United States executes prisoners has become a topic of much discussion and controversy recently. With some forms of execution broadly considered cruel and inhumane (like the electric chair, for example, responsible for some of the nastiest-sounding reports of botched executions you could imagine), and supplies of lethal injection drugs increasingly hard to come by. In Utah, in fact, the situation has deteriorated to the point that lawmakers just recently approved the return of firing squads.

Luckily, however, there's a definitieve answer in this case: whenever Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is finally executed, it'll be by lethal injection. What the availability of such lethal drugs will look like by that time is unclear, obviously, but according to numerous sources (including The Telegraph and the CBC), that'll be how Tsarnaev's life ends.

Mike Simons/Getty Images News/Getty Images

This isn't to say that lethal injections are free from controversy either, to be clear. In April 2014, Oklahoma executed convicted murderer and rapist Clayton Lockett via lethal injection, using an alternate, untested drug cocktail to do so (thanks to European refusing to facilitate capital punishment, the traditional imported drugs are in short supply).

What followed was, by all accounts, a horrifying scene — Lockett died of a heart attack 43 minutes after the botched execution attempt began, and was conscious, convulsing and speaking at various time throughout, a process detailed harrowingly by The Atlantic's Jeffrey Stern in a recent feature.

In short, there really isn't a guaranteed, surefire ethical means of executing a prisoner right now, if such a thing could ever be said to exist. But, having been convicted on federal death penalty charges, the lethal injection is what Tsarnaev is going to get. Not for quite a while in all liklihood, however — the appeals process can take years, in some cases decades. Although the last person sentenced to death federally, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, had a much shorter stay on death row than average, at just four years.

Image: Getty Images