We’ve had the trial even though Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s lawyers admitted he was guilty on the first day. This trial was important to endure. If we hadn’t had it, the conspiracy theorists would crawl out, accusing the police of cover-ups. The Fox-TV screamers would be concocting stories about how it was all Obama’s fault. The right wing would be clamoring to send the guy to Guantanamo. And the rest of us would have to put up with such idiocy instead of being able to watch Wolf Hall in peace. So I figure the trial was for us, not for Tsarnaev.
The second phase, to which we’re being subjected this week, is different. It’s not in our best interest. In America, the accused is supposed to be tried by his peers. This guy doesn’t have any peers. So it was up to the citizenry of Massachusetts to provide a jury. But more than half of us were deemed unqualified because we believed the death penalty to be unproductive, so 17th-century and no deterrent. Sounds like not all the citizenry was valued or deemed equal, but there it is.
We know this guy is one pathetic, despicable humanoid creature. So why can’t we just put him away in some Colorado prison for the worst human beings ever and never see him, read about him or hear about him again?
This stance has nothing to do with the morality or immorality of the death penalty or some people’s desire for revenge. It has to do with the death penalty’s burden on us. If the jury imposes the death penalty—and few would care if the guy dies—the nation’s justice system will continue to grind, costing taxpayers money. It will take time away from other matters we’d like to be considering, such as the Olympics, police brutality and Iran’s trustworthiness, matters about which we already have enough conflict. There will be hearings and appeals and news stories and television commentary and more drawings.
Moreover, it will keep the spotlight on him. It is impossible to judge the role fame plays with people like this. But one suspects the attention might make him proud of his actions, might validate them. It might affirm that he did what was needed for the religion he claims is his. It might give him pleasure to think he could be a martyr for his cause. Maybe he looks forward to the drama his death by lethal injection would cause. Maybe he looks forward to those virgins, which surely are preferable to imagining a life spent among the occupants of the Colorado prison for the worst human beings ever.
Observers in the courtroom play up Tsarnaev’s demeanor—impassive, unemotional, glazed. They imply or say it means he has no empathy for the father who described what that day was like for his family or the young, injured woman who held her friend’s hand as she died.
That demeanor means nothing. Anyone who has ever criticized someone has seen that kind of demeanor. Anyone who has ever been criticized has probably displayed that immobile face. Does anyone actually expect this Tsarnaev to be remorseful? After all this is a guy who ran over his own brother. He might have been supremely annoyed at that brother, the one who got him into this mess.
If someone did what Tsarnaev did to my child, I’d want to strangle him with my own hands. The rest of my life would be shrouded in a gloom that never went away.
But private feelings are different from civic ones. We are better off if we put him away and never hear from him or about him again. Life is too short and too precious, as we were reminded on that day, to be caught in the mire that he created.