08 April 2015

The Real Boston Bombing Trial Begins

In perhaps the least surprising jury verdict ever, a federal jury in Boston has convicted a man whose defense counsel acknowledge that his client committed the acts charged in the April 15, 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, and did not claim the insanity defense in opening arguments, after a fifteen day trial at which 92 witnesses were presented.

This was just the warm up to the real dispute in this case.  Should Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the younger brother of the mastermind behind the bombing who died before he was apprehended, face the death penalty for his role in the bombing?  Or, should he merely receive life in prison without any possibility of parole, probably to be served in the AdMax highest security prison in the federal system in Colorado?

In the penalty phase of the trial, Tsarnaev's defense counsel will try to humanize his client who was 19 years old when the crime was committed and admittedly played a secondary, although important role in the heinous act of terrorism, arguing that he should not be executed.

There is no state level death penalty in Boston, and it is a liberal leaning state, so Tsarnaev stands a fighting chance that someone in the jury will decide that he shouldn't be sentenced to death, even though the jury was "death qualified", screening out anyone morally opposed to the death penalty in all circumstance.

A verdict on guilt or innocence less than two years after the crime was committed in a capital case in federal court is relatively swift justice in this terrorism case, and leaves no uncertainty at all regarding the legality of the outcome, the certainty of serious punishment, correctness of the government's allegations factually, the availability of the full range of due process protections for the accused.  No one can doubt after today's verdict that Tsarnaev really was guilty of the crime with which he was charged.  The same cannot be said for terrorism suspects treated as enemy combatants or subjected to military justice.

These facts make Americans at home and abroad safer.  Tsarnaev will not be an international cause celebre, or rally marginal supporters to his cause of Chechynian independence.  He was treated as a mere murderer, and found unequivocally guilty of that crime.  Justice is done without fanfare.

A jury still needs to make a call on whether there will be an execution.  The high quality of attorney practice in a federal death penalty case in Boston means that this phase of the trial will almost surely be conducted by the book, with little room for complaint after the fact in appeals.

If the jury rules that there should be, this decision will hardly be the most problematic of death penalty cases by almost any measure, and will be carried out more swiftly than the ordinary execution, because there are fewer layers of appeals in the federal criminal justice system.  He doesn't even have a wife or children who will suffer as a result of his incarceration or execution, and his brother is already dead.

If the jury rules that there should not be an execution, the case will be concluded and soon forgotten.  Tsarnaev will probably not even appeal either the verdict or the sentence.  He will rot away in a high security federal prison from his current age of twenty-one until his death, and remain forgotten unless his intellectual accomplishment in prison are notable and somehow reach the general public, which is really rather unlikely.

No comments: