In 2013 Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother detonated two explosives at different points near the Boston Marathon’s finish line, killing three people and injuring hundreds. With his brother Tamerlan killed in the aftermath of the attacks, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev received the death penalty after his trial but appealed the decision. His lawyers contended that he was denied due process, which may have lessened his sentence. Recently, in a 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court rejected this argument saying that he received a fair trial. Tsarnaev will once again sit on death row.
The death penalty is in principle consistent with both natural law and the Gospel. In other words, there may be circumstances in which it would be a legitimate punishment for the accused. In practice, however, it is unnecessary in the Western World given our ability to incarcerate criminals. Namely, we can remove dangerous persons permanently and reliably from society. Recently, Pope Francis modified the wording in the section on the death penalty in the Catechism of the Catholic Church to reflect this reality.
Tsarnaev’s crimes are indeed heinous. Life in prison does not lessen the severity of those crimes. In some ways, life in prison would be a fate worse than death for him. He is currently being held at Federal Correctional Complex Florence in Colorado, which is known as the “Alcatraz of the Rockies.” His cell measures 87 square feet with a fixed bunk, a stool, a shower and a toilet. He can shower only three times a week. He spends most of each day in isolation, with his guards watching over him constantly from observation posts. Among other purposes, punishment should aim at the rehabilitation of the criminal. Living this way may convince him to seek repentance and forgiveness. Given his young age, a life sentence will give him plenty of time.
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