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Cahn: Does Tsarnaev deserve death penalty?

Posted: April 12, 2015 1:23 p.m.
Updated: April 13, 2015 1:00 a.m.

We journalists are, usually, taught not to use questions as headlines. This time, it’s really to ask myself the question: Does convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar “Jahar” Tsarvnaev deserve the death penalty?

My answer is, “Yes. Yes, he does.”

Tsarnaev, along with his brother, Tamerian, injured 260 people, killed two women in their 20s and an 8-year-old boy -- whose first name happened to be Martin -- when they set off two bombs near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon two years ago this Wednesday.

They also killed, with Tamerian pulling the trigger, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer, carjacked and got into a shootout with officers in nearby Watertown. Officers shot Tamerian Tsarnaev dead during the shootout. Jahar Tsarnaev still managed to get away for a few hours while hiding in a boat parked behind a nearby house.

As most of the media pointed out last week when a jury found Tsarnaev guilty of all 30 counts in connection with the bombings, it was the worst terrorist attack on American soil since Sept. 11, 2001.

Tsarnaev’s lawyer, Judy Clark, is notorious for keeping her clients off of death row. They include the Unabomber; Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph; and Jared Loughner, who killed several people when he shot Arizona U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Clark admits Tsarnaev is guilty and -- according to media reports -- even said so during her closing arguments.

Still, she is trying to keep her client from being executed.

Keep in mind, Massachusetts is a non-death penalty state, but it was a federal jury which found Tsarnaev guilty, which means the death penalty’s on the table.

Clarke’s argument is Jahar was manipulated by his brother -- a dupe.

CNN court reporter Ann O’Neill, in her The 13th Juror column, said Clarke may call a social worker who would “narrate the Tsarnaev family’s story of political and religious strife in Russia, their immigration to America, their struggle to assimilate, and, ultimately, the parents’ decision to divorce and return to their homeland when their dream of a better life failed.”

O’Neill also reports, Tsarnaev has expressed no remorse, describing him in court as a “blank.” However, there is speculation he may have suffered brain or other neurological damage after being shot in the boat he used to hide.

As a contrast, here is what Tsarnaev wrote while hiding in the boat: “The U.S. government is killing our innocent civilians but most of you already know that... I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished. We Muslims are one body, you hurt one, your hurt us all. Well at least that’s how Muhhammad wanted it to be...” He went on to write, “Know you are fighting men who look into the barrel of your gun and see heaven, now how can you compete with that? We are promised victory and we will surely get it.”

Tsarnaev went on to say while he didn’t like killing innocent people -- indeed, recognized it is forbidden in Islam -- something else overrode that proscription, allowing him and his brother to make the decision to set off the bombs.

There are many people, especially in Massachusetts where the bombing took place, who say we as a country should not stoop to the murderers’ level by killing them in return. Some of those same people, and others, point out study after study concluding the death penalty does not deter crime.

On the other hand, there are also studies showing it does.

I’m not sure this is really the issue, especially in a case like this.

First, the U.S. government has a history of going after and taking out terrorists. Look at Osama bin Laden. Yes, he was killed in a military operation and not executed following a trial. It could be argued death through a government-sanctioned military operation and death following a federal (government) trial aren’t really very different.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, this is about retribution, not deterrence. I doubt Tsarnaev receiving the death penalty will deter a single terrorist from attempting to attack innocent people for their twisted purposes. For all I know, it will embolden other terrorists.

I’m a fairly liberal guy; I think that’s pretty evident to most of my readers. Not when it comes to things like this, though. When someone commits an act of savagery of this magnitude -- against us, or any other people around the world -- they deserve to die. It is, in my opinion, a fitting punishment, deterrence or not.

When someone commits a murder such as Nicholas Jermaine Miller killed Hope Melton, they deserve to die. It is unfortunate a sworn officer of the law -- a sheriff, no less -- screws things up so badly justice of this sort is perverted.

That should not be the case in Boston, but it doesn’t mean it won’t. We’ll have to wait and see whether Clarke’s arguments on Tsarnaev’s behalf successfully keep him off death row.

Personally, I hope her winning streak fails. Yes, this is my ruthless eye-for-an-eye side coming out. Make no mistake: anyone’s death is tragic, even a terrorist and a murderer’s. Those feelings do not stop me from wanting Tsarnaev to pay for his acts with the ultimate price.

For me, at least, and I suspect many others, it will be the only way to end this story.

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