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Boston Bombing News: The Stacked Deck and the Death Penalty

Thanks to Margo Schulter, omramzey and EternalVigilance for ideas in this article.

Is it now officially OK to stack the legal deck against an American citizen who has been accused of terrorism? Noble words about the fairness of the American justice system are being trumped by the dictates of Homeland Security. How sad that our fears should override our sense of justice.

Let us count the ways in which the deck has been stacked against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

1. This article describes the chilling effect of the Special Administrative Measures law, which keeps defense attorneys from discussing the case with the media, allows the FBI to spy on defendant-attorney communications, and in general, skews the odds against a defendant, “keeping terrorism suspects guilty until proven otherwise.”

2. The Tsarnaev case has been rushed to trial with indecent haste, being tried in far less time than the majority of other capital cases in this country. Judge O’Toole has refused the defense the time they need to do it right.

3. With the help of the MSM, the prosecution has mounted an extensive campaign to sway potential jurors. There has been a deluge of leaked “evidence,” rumors, spurious photos, docudramas and tearful TV performances by FBI agents. “The evidence against him is overwhelming” is repeated over and over like a mantra – almost like an advertising jingle.

4. Jurors will be drawn from a traumatized city which is eager for a conviction. Certainly, Bostonians are entitled to a resolution which will help them to heal. But how does one balance this need against the defendant’s right to a fair trial?

Surely if the evidence against DT is really so “overwhelming,” a D.C. jury would also convict. As Karin Friedemann has commented, if the Forum video is as damning as it is claimed to be, “a competent prosecution could present the case in one day, and let the traumatized families go home.” So what’s the prosecution’s problem with moving the case to D.C.? A change of venue would at least have made U.S. vs Tsarnaev look less like a blatant fix … which is exactly what it looks like now.

Deal, or not. Being neither a lawyer nor a psychic, I am not in a position to speculate on what deals have been discussed. However, if the defense does want to go for a guilty plea, I do not believe that necessarily proves their client’s guilt. It may be only be an indicator of how very thoroughly the deck has been stacked.

Margo Schulter recently commented: “Whether it might sometimes be ethical to permit a defendant who claims innocence to plead guilty in order to avoid the death penalty – if the defendant is ready to do so, and the risk of conviction and a death sentence seems so overwhelming that actual innocence might not be a protection – is a dismal dilemma which the death penalty raises. Abolishing the death penalty will abolish this immoral double bind. it is immoral to force an innocent defendant to plead guilty in order to save his life.”

Capital punishment is vengeance, not deterrence. The prosecution alleges that the Tsarnaevs bombed the Marathon as “payback” for America’s killing of innocent Muslim civilians. Now America proposes to kill Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as “payback” for the deaths of innocent people in Boston. Does this make any sense?

Alisha Ott has written: “Capital punishment should be abolished because of the following: it is not an effective crime deterrent, it may result in the loss of innocent lives, it is morally wrong, and there are other, more humane, alternatives.”

According to Ott: “Studies posted by the Death Penalty Information Center confirm that in 2001, the murder rates in states which did not employ capital punishment were thirty-seven percent lower than the murder rates in those states which did utilize capital punishment … Investigation into the causes of higher murder rates in death penalty states reveals a connection between executions and increases in homicide.”

Capital punishment only reinforces violent behavior and serves no purpose but to avenge victims and their families … Capital punishment is not a correctional tool; it is state-sanctioned revenge.

In this article, Tsarnaev defense team member David Bruck addresses the irony of Mayor Ed Koch’s statement that the death penalty “affirms life.” Bruck quotes the last words of Joseph Carl Shaw, an executed murderer: “Killing was wrong when I did it. It is wrong when you do it.”

He goes on to describe “the crowd gathered outside the death-house to cheer on the executioner. Whoops of elation greeted the announcement of Shaw’s death … For those who had to see the execution of J.C. Shaw, it wasn’t easy to keep in mind that the purpose of the whole spectacle was to affirm life.”

Bruck’s article also points out that racial bias is often applied in deciding who is executed for any given crime. And he brings up an issue which is pertinent to the Tsarnaev case: sometimes the state makes a mistake in convicting a suspect. A prison sentence can be commuted, but an execution cannot be reversed.

Are there really “monsters” out there? Who gets to decide which human beings should be killed, and which ones have the possibility to achieve redemption and some sort of meaningful life behind bars? I greatly admire Judy Clarke’s efforts to find the humanity in even the worst offenders. The human race would be better off if more people took this enlightened approach.

Non-political mass shooters get some sympathy as deeply disturbed human beings. The Tsarnaevs, on the other hand, are not seen as troubled people, but as cold, smirking, inhuman monsters … advance soldiers of a fearsome invading jihadist army. To show mercy or understanding toward the defendant in this case is politically incorrect.

After the recent horrific events in Paris, someone was heard to say: “Now we definitely have to make an example of the Boston Bomber.” Why? “Making an example” of DT will not be a deterrent to future terrorists. It will not make America any safer. This proposed ritual killing, if it happens, might briefly give America a warm feeling of “standing strong against terrorism.” But IMO that political motivation is not, in any way, a rational justification for the death penalty.

I see no solution to the terrorism issue in this endless, escalating cycle of “payback.” Every time we kill a terrorist, ten or a hundred more arise to take his place. America needs a different approach to this problem, because it seems that the current strategy is only making things worse.

The other day, I ran across the following quotation from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, which pretty much sums it up for me:

If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.


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