Opinion: an unconvincing verdict | Opinion | DW | 16.05.2015
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Opinion: an unconvincing verdict

A court in Boston has handed the death penalty to Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Although Attorney General Loretta Lynch welcomed the judgment, strong doubts remain, says DW’s Gero Schließ in Washington.

It was the worst attack in the United States since 9/11. It traumatized an entire city, and shocked the nation. The gruesome images of Boston burnt deeply into the collective memory of Americans. Three people were killed, and many of the 264 injured lost not only their limbs, but their long-term health. With this in mind, is the death penalty the only suitable punishment?

Clearly, it is not.

It appears the impact of the crime - and public pressure - left the prosecution with no other choice and the defense no room, in which to strike a deal to avert the ultimate penalty. The judgment is a hard-won victory for the prosecution, and a bitter defeat for defender Judith Clarke. She highlighted Tsarnaev's youth and his impressionable nature as mitigating factors.

The indictment was able to convince the jury's 12 members that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a cold-blooded killer, who planned and committed the brutal crime. Videos led the jury through the enormity of the attack in gruesome details. It was made clear the attack was politically motivated and an act of terrorism.

None of the 12 jurors had further concerns.

Schliess Gero Kommentarbild App

DW'S Gero Schliess

But considering the process and the judgment, quite considerable doubts emerge. It was very difficult for the court to recruit Boston citizens to be jury members. Almost every citizen has been affected by the attacks, either directly or through friends and family. It is hard to imagine that those selected in the end were impartial.

It should be added that those committed as jurors fundamentally have no problem with the death penalty and are prepared to impose it.

This is a selection criteria required by law, but it casts a bad light on the American justice system.

It was an error to hold the trial in Boston to begin with. With an entire city in shock by an attack of such scope, it's not the place to receive uninfluenced and unbiased justice. When the perpetrators of 1995's bloody bombing in Oklahoma were put on trial, the case was moved to Denver.

The new Attorney General Loretta Lynch quickly deemed sentence an appropriate punishment for a horrific crime. But she as well will not be able to prevent the trial and sentence from having a bad aftertaste.

Just to be clear: Tsarnaev's crime was horrendous and should be harshly punished. The question is whether the judge and jurors were truly free in making their decision to implement the death penalty. I remain doubtful.

And the defense will base its appeal almost certainly on exactly these arguments. Attorney General Lynch expressed hope that the victims and their families now can receive closure with this sentence. This is likely only to be a pipedream. The appeal process could take many years. And the images of Boston will continue to torment the victims and families for just as long. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will remain a part of this story.

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