An appeal to imprison, not kill, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

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Last week marked the 119th year of the storied Boston Marathon. Yet it also marked the two-year anniversary of the gruesome bombings carried out by brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev at the finish line of the 117th year of the event.

On April 8, 2015 — nearly two years after the attacks that killed three and injured over 200 others — surviving brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was convicted on all 30 counts of federal charges against him. Since then, Tsarnaev’s legal team has fought to convince the jury to give him the lightest possible punishment he could get: life in prison without parole. If they fail, Tsarnaev will receive the death penalty.

We, as a nation, cannot let this happen.

There is something intrinsically unsettling about the ability of a state to take the life of its citizens. Why should a state have the right to decide if someone should be allowed to continue to live? If humans are punished for killing other humans, why aren’t states? The state was created to protect and care for its citizens, not to systematically execute them. It is wholly possible to penalize heinous acts without the prospect of capital punishment.

But there are also practical reasons to avoid giving Tsarnaev the death penalty.

Life imprisonment is just as effective at incapacitating criminals and deterring crime. Research has also shown that putting a criminal in prison for life is substantially cheaper than sentencing him or her to death. While the actual drugs used in executions are relatively inexpensive, the costs associated with death penalty trials are astoundingly high.

Bill and Denise Richards, who lost their 8-year-old son, Martin, in the attacks, echo the sentiment to spare Tsarnaev. In a letter written to the Boston Globe, the parents pleaded for federal prosecutors to take the death penalty off the table in exchange for Tsarnaev spending his life in prison without any possibility of release. The couple referenced the exhausting legal process over the past two years as the basis for their letter, noting that they only wish to seek closure. A death penalty trial would prolong the procedure and hinder the nation’s ability to heal so long as Tsarnaev’s name remains in the headlines.

They wrote, “For us, the story of (the marathon) should not be defined by the actions or beliefs of the defendant, but by the resiliency of the human spirit and the rallying cries of this great city.”

Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, is also in favor of locking Tsarnaev up for life. In an appearance on “CBS This Morning” on April 9, 2015, Warren expressed her distaste for the death penalty. She made an even more important point, however, in stating that giving Tsarnaev life in prison would prevent him from becoming a martyr in the eyes of other potential terrorists.

When a criminal is put in jail for life, the criminal is truly punished because he or she suffers. As horrifying as it may appear on the surface, the essence of punishment is to create suffering.

I am not against punishment, nor do I refute that Tsarnaev deserves to be punished for his actions. If we want Tsarnaev to suffer for the pain he caused, we ought to want him to serve a life sentence. I say this not as someone who suffered directly from the attacks of that dreadful day, but as someone who believes in basic humanity and as someone who stands in solidarity with his fellow countrymen.

I distinctly remember sitting in my dorm room that bone-chilling spring day in 2013, my eyes glued to the news nonstop for hours. I recall seeing images of an innocent 8-year-old boy murdered and couldn’t fathom how his parents must have felt. I remember sitting alone, terrified, with even a few tears running down my cheeks, as my heart pained for the victims to whom I had no connection other than the country we all call home.

And yet I didn’t need to know them to hurt for them.

I have been following this case passionately for the past two years. So please, as I write this emotionally charged article from a continent away, take action to preserve our humanity. Start a petition, call your senator, call the Boston federal courthouse, organize a march, do something — because in a week, it might be too late.

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