There was little joy in Boston last Friday afternoon when 12 jurors unanimously sentenced Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death. Only 15% of the city’s residents supported the death penalty for the 21-year-old marathon bomber; across the country, four times that many wanted him executed. The reaction to the verdict was muted in Boston, even among the victims. Some quietly expressed gratitude that justice had been served. Others, notably Bill and Denise Richard whose 8-year-old son Martin was the youngest to die and whose 7-year-old daughter Jane lost her left leg, opposed the execution. There was no sympathy for Tsarnaev, but there was also no outcry for vengeance, no demand for public retribution – only a kind of sad and weary spirit, and a determination to move on. I was one of those who had hoped the jury would decide for life, although life in the supermax prison seems a living death. But I have only admiration for the 12 people, whose identities I will never know, who came to a different conclusion. I don’t know why they did so, but I think that, amid the horrific sadness of the testimony, they looked daily at Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and saw . . . nothing – no sign of the empathy that connects us to each other. And so all the arguments of his defense team – which were efforts to humanize him – came to nothing.
We have seen so many instances of our justice system breaking down. Here, whether you agree with the outcome or not, it worked.