It’s easy to understand the decision to seek the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Federal officials allege that he and his brother coldbloodedly built, planted and detonated two pressure-cooker bombs that indiscriminately ended the lives of three people and injured 260 near the finish line of the iconic Boston Marathon.
Someone responsible for such wanton mass murder is not deserving of sympathy. But life in prison with no possibility of parole is a more fitting punishment, even for such heinous crimes. Little would be gained by putting him to death.
The path to capital punishment is slow and costly. Legal wrangling invariably delays resolution of such cases, often for decades. Since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988, the government has executed only three people.
There’s little evidence that the death penalty deters other killers. The execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh in 2001 didn’t dissuade the Boston attackers. In announcing Thursday that he will seek the death penalty, Attorney General Eric Holder gave Tsarnaev a powerful incentive to plead guilty in return for life in prison. We hope that’s what the suspect will do.
The evidence against Tsarnaev is strong. He was captured in surveillance videos slipping a backpack from his shoulder to the ground near the finish line moments before the twin blasts. And he reportedly admitted his involvement to the FBI. It appears Dzhokhar Tsarnaev acted only with his older brother, Tamerlan, who was killed in a shootout with police days after the bombing. Officials have revealed no evidence that a terrorist group directed or supported the attack.
A guilty plea would spare the nation a high-profile terrorist trial and the burden of taking a life, while ensuring Tsarnaev would rot in prison, where he belongs.