Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was sentenced to death by the jury today. Unless one supports total abolition of the death sentence, this was clearly the right outcome.
It wasn’t always clear, however, that Tsarnaev would receive the death sentence. For one thing, the trial was held in Massachusetts, one of our most liberal states.
In the immediate aftermath of the bombing seven in 10 Americans said they supported the death penalty for Tsarnaev. Yet a Boston Globe poll conducted five months after the bombing found that 57 percent of Massachusetts residents favored a life sentence, while only 33 percent wanted the death penalty.
In addition, Tsarnaev’s attorney, Judy Clarke, has a strong reputation for helping defendants avoid the death sentence. She succeeded in doing so for Unabomber Ted Kaczynski; Susan Smith, who drowned her two children; Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolf; and Tucson shooter Jared Loughner.
Given Clarke’s record, Douglas Berman, a law professor and proprietor of the respected blog “Sentencing Law and Policy,” predicted that Tsarnaev would plead guilty and get sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
Finally, Clarke had an argument to make against imposing the death penalty. She could claim, and did, that Tsarnaev was under the sway of his older brother.
But according to reports, only three of the 12 jurors put any stock in Clarke’s argument that Tsarnaev was under his brother’s sway. And eventually, all 12 jurors agreed to impose the death penalty.
Why? I agree with Bill Otis that the decisive factor was Tsarnaev’s refusal to show remorse for his horrific actions.
Clarke tried to manufacture remorse by having Sister Helen Prejean, a strong anti-death penalty advocate, testify that when she talked with Tsarnaev he was remorseful. On cross-examination, the prosecution did a good job of undermining the Sister’s testimony. But what really destroyed it was the image of Tsarnaev sitting in court day after day looking indifferent.
Only testimony from Tsarnaev himself that he is remorseful might have saved his life. Such testimony was not presented, presumably because Tsarnaev feels no remorse.
The jury got it right.