By Sal Bommarito
The trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has rekindled the debate about capital punishment. The question is: Should an advanced society such as America put to death criminals who commit monstrous offenses such as murder and kidnapping?
Like many others, I have mixed emotions about this issue and have changed my mind a number of times over the years. At one point, I believed that no one could logically support capital punishment if they could not personally pull the switch in an execution. The hideous crime that took place during the Boston Marathon has once again caused me to rethink my position. I admit that I am relieved that the younger Tsarnaev brother was convicted of murder and sentenced to die for his crimes, but still am troubled by his impending execution.
Before delving into the philosophy of capital punishment, let’s consider all of the pertinent facts. On January 1, 2015, 3,019 individuals were on death row; the largest number of prisoners were in CA (743), FL (403) and TX (276). In 1968, 517 people were awaiting their execution. By 2015, the number increased six fold. Over 1,400 individuals have been put to death since 1968. During the calendar years 2015 (partial year), 2014 and 2013, 14, 35 and 39 were killed, respectively.
The Boston Marathon tragedy occurred on April 15, 2013 in Cambridge, MA. The detonation of two pressure cooker bombs resulted in the deaths of three spectators at the race and one police officer. Over 260 others plus 16 policemen were injured. Tamerian And Dzhokhar Tsarnaev committed the crimes. The former died during his flight from the police. Dzhokhar was convicted and sentenced to death last week. Federal officials will carry out the penalty, although he will not die for many years and only after an appeals process that will likely involve the Supreme Court. Islamic beliefs relating to the U.S. involvement in Muslim countries are believed to be the motives or the crime.
Many people in the U.S. and in other developed countries believe taking of a life, even for a capital crime, is barbaric and sinful. “The European Union holds a strong and principled position against the death penalty; its abolition is a key objective for the Union’s human rights policy.” Countries who apply for membership to the Union must agree to abolish capital punishment.
Often, proponents of the death penalty say the survivors of victims of capital crimes deserve closure. And, the death of perpetrators is an important element in the healing process. Further, proponents believe criminals of capital crimes are a menace to society and should be put down like rabid animals to ensure they do not commit other serious offenses.
Those who oppose capital punishment sometimes refer to religious sources of one form or another that indicate that taking a life for any reason is forbidden by God. Additionally, a vast number of perpetrators are not of sound mind. After all, only insane individuals could possibly kill other humans indiscriminately. And finally, the death penalty takes away the possibility that the accused and convicted could someday be exonerated by new evidence or more advanced science. There are no “mulligans” when it comes to capital punishment.
Other issues are also in play, although most are secondary to the items above. Paying for a person’s life sentence falls upon the state and the taxpayers. It could amount to a huge amount of money depending upon how long the prisoner lives. Some citizens resent the use of their taxes for this purpose. And then, there is the choice between death and life imprisonment. Should our society intentionally inflict the maximum suffering on a capital offender? If so, what is worse- death by injection or incarceration for life?
When all the dust settles, it makes sense for America to decide on one or the other, death or no death for capital crimes. Currently, the federal government endorses the death penalty and individual states can opt to ban it. So, depending on where a crime is committed will determine whether an offender qualifies for a death sentence.
I will not express my preference in this essay because I am still on the fence. In any case, society must be sensitive to both sides of this issue. Given the despicable nature of the Boston Marathon bombings, it will be an appropriate situation to test the death penalty process on a national basis.