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:
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:
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,