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Boston Jury Finds Marathon Bomber Tsarnaev Guilty


Mark Stricherz - published on 04/08/15 - updated on 06/07/17

As trial moves into penalty phase, Massachusetts bishops urge avoidance of capital punishment

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 21-year-old accused Boston Marathon bomber. faces the death penalty as jurors in the Boston Marathon bombing trial have found him guilty of all 30 counts.

Seventeen of those counts carry a possible penalty of death. 

After 11 hours of deliberation, the jury found Tsarnaev guilty of charges including conspiracy, use of a weapon of mass destruction and the murders of restaurant manager Krystle Marie Campbell, 29, Boston University graduate student Lingzi Lu, 23, and Martin Richard, 8 at the marathon finish line, as well as MIT Police Officer Sean Collier three days later, the Boston Herald reported.

As the trial entered its final days, the Catholic bishops of Massachusetts urged that Tsarnaev be spared the death penalty. The prelates’ statement was issued as a clarification of the Church’s position.

To support their position, the bishops cited section 2267 of the Catechism and Pope Francis and invoked the slogan of an anti-abortion campaign:

The Church has taught that the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are “rare, if not practically nonexistent.” The Church’s teaching is further developing in recognition of the inherent dignity of all life as a gift from God. As Pope Francis has recently stated, “[The death penalty] is an offense against the inviolability of life and the dignity of the human person. When the death penalty is applied, it is not for a current act of oppression, but rather for an act committed in the past. It is also applied to persons whose current ability to cause harm is not current, as it has been neutralized – they are already deprived of their liberty.” The defendant in this case has been neutralized and will never again have the ability to cause harm. Because of this, we, the Catholic Bishops of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, believe that society can do better than the death penalty.

Tsarnaev, 22, is a Chechen accused of mass killing and violence, according to Colin Daileda of Mashable, a news site aimed at millennials:

Tsarnaev is accused of helping to set off two pressure-cooker bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon in 2013,
killing three and injuring more than 260. He allegedly acted in tandem with his older brother, Tamerlan, who died in the manhunt that followed the blasts.

It seems unlikely that the jury will fail to convict Tsarnaev of many of the  
30 counts he is accused of when they finish their deliberation, which begins tomorrow. The question is whether they will convict him of any crimes that come with the possibility of the death penalty.

If so, the trial will proceed to the death penalty phase. The jury would have to unanimously decide to give Tsarnaev the death penalty in order for the government to put him to death.

Otherwise, he will likely receive life in prison.

The prosecution has clearly stated that it is pursuing the death penalty, while the defense is trying to paint Tsarnaev as a young man influenced by his radicalized older brother.

If the jury does eventually give Tsarnaev the death penalty, he is likely to appeal.

If the jury finds Tsarnaev guilty, will the bishops’ statement convince jurors to spare his life? The question of the jurors’ Catholicism was raised in January. According to USA Today, Catholics’ support for capital punishment has dipped:

Greater Boston is 46% Catholic, according to  Georgetown University ‘s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, but religion isn’t necessarily a strong shaper of local attitudes. Massachusetts is the fourth least religious state after nearby New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine, according to the Gallup Poll , which looks at worship attendance and how important people say religion is in their daily lives.

Yet when faced with extraordinary decisions, even less-observant Catholics turn to church teachings for guidance, according to Dillon. They’re apt to do so if tapped for the Tsarnaev trial, she said.

"If they identify as Catholic, part and parcel of why they do that is because they believe these teachings have a lot of value," Dillon said. "They make up their own minds, but it gives them pause" to consider what the church teaches.

Nationwide, 62% of Catholics favor the death penalty for murderers, according to the General Social Survey’s most recent data from 2012. That is a substantial decline from 30 years ago, when 82% of Catholics favored it.

In the interim, the Catholic Church ended its support for routine use of capital punishment via Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical,  
Evangelium Vitae.


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