The Boston Marathon Bomber case poses an unanswered question.
The United States Supreme Court last week held what can only be described as bizarre oral arguments in the case of the Boston Marathon survivor bomber.
“Odd” is a strange word to use to describe sterling legal arguments. But new judge Amy Coney Barrett suggested so when she asked government attorney Eric Feagin what the proceedings were about.
“I wonder what the government’s end is here,” she said, admitting to having difficulty “keeping up with (the government’s) point.”
His confusion is linked to the government’s schizophrenic approach to the punishment of
The government is asking the High Court to restore a death sentence handed down by a jury that was overturned by a federal appeals court. But at the same time as President Joe Biden’s Justice Department calls for Tsarnaev’s death in court, Attorney General Merrick Garland has suspended executions of federal inmates facing the death penalty.
“So the government has declared a moratorium on executions, but you are here to defend its death sentence. … And if you win, that probably means he’s relegated to living under the threat of a death penalty that the government has no intention of carrying out, ”Barrett said.
Essentially, Feagin told Barrett that the issue in court was the validity of the appellate court’s decision and how the executive branch would proceed in the future regarding death cases was a separate, non-justiciable issue. He would be right in his analysis, but the wavering and weaving of government advocate demonstrates the contentious national debate over the merits of capital punishment.
Some states have it, and other states, including Illinois, do not. Congress passed a federal death penalty law that applies in the worst cases – the Boston Marathon bombing is one; the 2017 kidnapping and murder of a Chinese student at the University of Illinois is another.
But even though jurors are convinced death is appropriate – they were in the bombing case but not the kidnapping / murder case – the Biden administration rejects executions for reasons moral. At the same time, some judges – in both state and federal courts – refuse to uphold death sentences due to personal opposition which they disguise under unconvincing legal aspects. The decision of the court of appeal in the Tsarnaev case is just one example.
This is not the only problem in the debate on the death penalty. Opponents argue that it is cruel, that the government should not be tasked with executing criminals no matter what they do, because it belittles human life. Instead, they suggest life in prison as an alternative. But what is the hardest part?
Tsarnaev was 19 when he and his brother planted the bombs that destroyed and devastated so many lives. Now he is 27 years old and is being held in the maximum security federal prison in Florence, Colorado. The best he can hope for is day after day in the same cold environment until his life expires.
Tsarnaev may have been filled with jihadist zeal when he embarked on his murderous mission. But how does he feel now about the importance of what he did, and how, if not executed, will he feel 20 years from now when he thinks about what could be his life?
Sirhan Sirhan, who was 24 when he assassinated presidential candidate Robert Kennedy in 1968, has been miserable behind bars. Even at 77 – 53 years later – he is desperately seeking freedom for the rest of his life.
Tsarnaev deserves the harshest punishment possible for his pivotal role in his horrific crime.
But what is it ? The Supreme Court will rule on the legal question and the Biden administration will continue to exercise its administrative prerogatives.
Whatever happens, the only way Tsarnaev can leave or leave federal custody is through a box.