The Boston Bomber–To Kill or Not To Kill

I found myself, once again, over at Jonathan Turley’s always compelling and substantive blog, where he’s been writing about the decision to allow an image of convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, in his orange prison jumpsuit, defiantly raising his middle finger after his arrest.  Mr. Turley raises the legal question: was this evidence prejudicial or probative and, by extension, should it have been allowed?

It’s a tough call; one that, given my absolute lack of legal training or experience, I am very comfortable making. However close to the line (and it is very close) the simple fact is that this gesture is how he chose to represent himself–unrepentant and defiant.  Separate from the heinousness of his actions, his defiance is almost amusing, coming just hours after he was found cowering in a parked boat.  He had scrawled out an equally defiant note with all the usual, juvenile junior jihadist rhetoric—blah, blah, blah.

Let’s not forget how the younger Mr. Tsarnaev had escaped his previous encounter with law enforcement–by engaging in a furious firefight that included home-made bombs and semi-automatic weapons, before fleeing in a stolen vehicle, running over his older brother and dragging his body 25 to 30 feet down the street on the way. I think a raised middle finger is not only a concise and illuminating view into this young man’s soul but quite literally the least of his worries. That said, I’m hoping for life in prison rather than death, because the latter is too easy. This guy wouldn’t last a week in the general prison population, and he’s an infamous mass murderer, making Super Max isolation for the half century or more he’s got left fits the bill. I know a lot of folks are screaming for justice, and I get that. Does it take much to imagine my hands around the neck of a punk-ass like him?  Absolutely not–my blood pressure rises each time I see his face in the news.

But I like to think I’m savvy enough to distinguish emotion from reason.  I don’t think the hypocritical “it’s bad to kill so we’ll kill you if you do” brand of justice is morally compelling. If the state holds that the taking of life is an unpardonable crime, the state should not take a life as reprisal. That’s not justice, it’s revenge. The death penalty, likewise, does very little if anything to discourage others.

Mr Tsarnaev gave little thought, beyond the abstract, to the fact that he might die for his barbarism.  At best, he had whimsical daydreams of fantastical rewards–but it’s not the rewards that inspire monsters like this–it is the notoriety, because the man who raises his middle finger as he did is, at his core, a trembling narcissist. He longs for fame–and that’s how we take him.

These guys, we kill them and they become martyrs. Lock ’em up forever and they’re forgotten–and that’s pretty fine punishment indeed. We lead by example, and they end up as examples to no one.

By JunkChuck

Native, Militant Westsylvanian (the first last best place), laborer, gardener, and literary hobbyist (if by literary you mean "hack"). I've had a bunch of different blogs, probably four, due to a recurring compulsion to start over. This incarnation owes to a desire to dredge up the best entries of the worst little book of hand-scrawled poems I could ever dream of writing, salvageable excerpts from fiction both in progress and long-abandoned. and a smattering of whatever the hell seems to fit at any particular moment. At first blush, I was here just to focus on old, terrible verse, but I reserve the right to include...anything. Maybe everything, certainly my love of pulp novels, growing garlic, the Pittsburgh Steelers and howling at the moon--both figuratively and, on rare occasions, literally.

10 replies on “The Boston Bomber–To Kill or Not To Kill”

Tough call in this one, Chuck. After wantonly killing and maiming like he did, do I think he deserves to continue to draw his own breath? No, I do not. Should the state of Massachusetts have the right to kill him? Would killing him be justice? Tough call. I know he’s evil. The finger to the camera has no bearing in that at all.


I understand the argument–I hate this guy as much as I hate anyone I’ve never met, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it since it happened. My wife runs marathons, my kids and I always go to watch–it’s easy to imagine that his victims could be my own family, for what that’s worth. Furthermore, I’d go so far as to say that if a person hurt someone close to me, I can admit with all confidence that I could respond, eye for an eye, and still sleep soundly. I could also face a jury for that crime. It would be worth it.

All of that said, as a civilized society that holds the taking of a human life as the gravest of offenses, it is imperative that we adhere to our own code. A needle in the arm is ultimately, morally, no different than a frenzied crowd tearing a criminal literally to pieces–regardless of our shrouding it in the gauzy veil of institutional detachment. And again, as I said in the original post, in the case of a narcissistic punk with a martyr complex like this, a lifetime in a 9×9 cell seems tremendously just–we can only kill him once, but half century of sleeping on a steel slab alone, forgotten, and utterly insignificant–no books, no television, no windows, no human contact beyond a tray of gruel and bologna sandwiches–seems perfect.


I truly understand your reasoned conclusion, Chuck. I can’t seem to but the period on the sentence in my mind that reads “I agree.” Even though I know you’re right. It would be the same way with those that plotted and carried out 9/11, these most extreme of terroristic killers that cut to the fabric of our free society to make their point. My anger is just so strong toward their actions and them personally still that a lifetime in prison seems too much like absolution. And yet I know you are right. Thanks for your passionate post and comment.


I’m nowhere near consistent on this–I’ve been watching the Ken Burns documentary on the Roosevelts (14 hours of fantastic) and there’s a snippet of Hitler mocking FDR from a podium, really hamming it up for his sycophants, and my greatest aspiration at the moment was: me, my baseball bat, and a time machine.


I have always been opposed to the death penalty. Always. The closest I get to wanting to see it in play is with child abusers and molesters. Years ago, there was a local story about a woman who had her grand kids because the mother was incapable caring for them. One evening, her grandson, who was probably around eight or nine years old was whining about doing his homework. So, grandma beat him so badly with a wooden board that he died in his sleep that night. When I read stories like that, I can begin to imagine the death penalty. But, no, it will never make sense to me. I believe it to be a far greater punishment to put them in a cell for the rest of their lives. I don’t care about the cost. Their lives will be miserable and we will retain the moral high ground.


Thing is , if he receives the death penalty he will still be breathing for the next 10-15 years of appeals. I can’t help but wonder, unless he is solitary confinement, what fate will come to him in prison. thoughtful article.


Thoughtful post and it made me do some brain flexing which for a Sunday evening is not easy for me. I’m usually quite pro death penalty except what troubles me is cases where we don’t know for sure which I think happens more often than we like to think. This case is slam dunk though, there is no doubt of his guilt and such a heinous crime deserves death in my view, both as a punishment and preventative function. I’m originally from the Boston area though and have friends who were there that day right where it happened so I’m sure there’s some bias in my view.

The appeals process will drag this out for years which I think kind of defeats the purpose. You’re right too about the martyr factor. Thanks for making me think. 😉


I’ve been opposed to the death penalty for we tend to wield it against minorities. That plus the fact we all too often kill innocent people. My list of reasons go on. That said, if Mass wants to fry this guy I’m on board with it. He did it and he’s not man enough to stand up and admit it. THAT said…you were right. Let him fade away. The state has already spent too much on his lawyers. On a side note I am grateful they stopped posting so many photos of him. I was shocked at the sheer numbers of young women who thought him so beautiful surely he was simply a complex, misunderstood soul. Fading away was good enough for Charles Manson, it’s good for this … … I’m not going to give him the power of a name. F*ck him.


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