Tag Archives: Boston marathon bombing

Death penalty for Marathon bomber: A reluctant “NO”

By Christopher B. Daly 

[Update, 2.4.14: A new study shows a surge in exonerations.]

I was opposed to the death penalty last April 14, the day before two immigrant brothers allegedly set off two homemade bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, causing death, grievous wounds, maiming,and mayhem. It was a despicable act, and it made me furious (not terrified, by the way).

In the heat of the moment, I wanted to find the perpetrators and punish them. I thought maybe they should be put into stocks on Boston Common and subject to whatever vengeance the public wanted to wreak. I think they would not have lasted long.

The Boston case – in which Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Thursday that federal prosecutors would seek the death penalty – illustrates exactly why we have laws. It strikes me that we make these laws as much for ourselves as we do for the criminals. When we are not furious, we have the chance to deliberate and to make wise laws that we agree to abide by even when all hell is breaking loose.

Before the Marathon Bombing, I thought the death penalty was a bad idea, for several reasons. It has become so rare in the United States — especially in Massachusetts, where the first execution took place in 1630 and the last execution took place in 1947 — that it could be seen as so “unusual” that it is unconstitutional on those grounds alone.

What I find even more compelling is the experience of the Innocence Project at the Cardozo Law School at Yeshiva University and similar efforts carried out by journalists and journalism students. For lots of reasons — racism, inadequate public defenders, bogus confessions, and more — there are a horrifying number of people in America who have been placed on Death Row only to be exonerated before execution. (As of today, the Innocence Project tallies 312 cases of exoneration of prisoners slated to be put to death.) And of course, some innocent people have certainly been wrongfully killed by the state — which is to say, by all of us, through our laws and our taxes.

Ultimately, the problem is this: the death penalty is an irreversible climax to an imperfect system of justice. If we could be absolutely sure that our courts never made a mistake, then the death penalty might be worth considering. But the fact is that we know that our courts (and our cops and our prosecutors) sometime make mistakes. So, it is illogical and immoral to cap off such a system with a penalty that has no remedy.

For these reasons, as someone who was born in Boston and works here I am pleased that the Massachusetts Legislature has repeatedly refused to reinstate the death penalty. The last time the issue came up for a vote, in 2001, the Legislature rejected it by a vote of 94-60. Even in the aftermath of the Marathon Bombing, a large majority of Bostonians said they opposed capital punishment. And I am glad that in a time of peaceful deliberation, the people of Massachusetts were able to listen to the angels of our better nature and put in place restraints on ourselves.

In the Marathon bombing, the would-be terrorists used death as the instrument of their purpose. Let us not sink to their level.

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Terror suspects’ parents

By Christopher B. Daly

Is it just me? Or does something about the body language of the people in this photograph seem wildly inauthentic?

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(Photo: Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times)

I ask myself: If my wife and I had to conduct a press conference under similar circumstances (which, granted, is a big stretch), would we carry on like that? What is really up with these folks? This looks like a scene from a “Borat” film. It looks like a parody of two distraught parents. They seem to be saying “Up yours!”

Does anyone else find this odd?

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The bombing case: “Total Noise”?

By Christopher B. Daly 

Here is a fine piece that features the author Jim Gleick thinking in print about the coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing and related events. (Full disclosure: I have known Jim since we were in college together, and I admired his books Chaos and The Information; I am not currently in touch with him.)

Gleick’s piece from New York magazine was also noticed by Maureen Dowd in her column today. She added value by actually taking him out for coffee and interviewing him.

Photo montage by New York magazine (including photo by BU student journalism Kenshin Okubo).

Photo montage by New York magazine (including photo by BU student journalism Kenshin Okubo).

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Give the Marathon bomber a fair trial

By Christopher B. Daly 

Here’s my two cents:

As a native of Boston and someone who has cheered at many Boston marathons over the years, I say we should give Dzhokar Tsarnaev a fair trial, which begins with reading him his Miranda rights as soon as he is lucid. To do anything less means that we are falling apart as a society.

The bombing of the marathon was a horrible crime — a violent assault on the persons of those killed and maimed and an assault on civilization itself and all its hard-won gains.

If we in Boston are as wonderful and as “strong” as we have been telling ourselves this week, then we can really do no less that to follow our own laws. We have to acknowledge that, as far as we know, Tsarnaev is a U.S. citizen who committed a crime on American soil. Therefore, he should be tried in a regular criminal court. We should not sink to his level, which was sheer barbarism. Nor should we pretend that he was some kind of soldier. We are not at war, and our courts are open and functioning. (To call him an “enemy combatant” is ridiculous: he was not wearing anyone’s uniform, and he was not following orders. He was part of a fantasy, not an army.)

I will grant that he appears to be a rotten bastard who did not deserve the blessings of living here, but that doesn’t mean we have to panic and throw out some of our highest achievements. We should use this occasion to remind ourselves who we really are — and to let freedom ring, from Cambridge to the Caucuses. All the angry young men in the world should see that we actually are fair, that we follow the rule of law, and that (by the way)  if they mess with us, we will defend ourselves — by following the rule of law.

In other words, we should give him a fair trial — not for his sake, but for ours.

That would be Boston strong.

U.S. District Court, Boston

U.S. District Court, Boston

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