The Betrayal of Capital Punishment

by Katharine Blake McFarland


Making an argument against capital punishment has always felt to me like a ridiculous exercise. Like making an argument against sticking forks into electrical sockets, leaving your baby alone at the mall, or eating spoiled meat. Its patent indefensibility has often left me at a loss for words. But speechlessness is not an effective line of reasoning, and neither is, “because it’s wrong!” Furthermore, many intelligent, thoughtful citizens believe the death penalty to be both morally and legally sound.

Since Attorney General Holder announced his decision to seek the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, I have engaged in a personal experiment: I have tried to imagine myself as someone who agrees with him. I have tried to believe that, in this case, the crime was so horrific that the State is warranted in killing him, should the trial get that far. That Dzhokhar deserves to die. That Justice compels it.

Partly, the experiment comes from a concern about the implications of loyalty. I grew up in Massachusetts. I learned to ride a bike in the quiet streets of Watertown, just blocks from where Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed. Later, when my family moved to Cambridge, I started high school at Cambridge Rindge and Latin; I was there when Tamerlan was, and my brother was there with Dzhokhar. During my senior year, I acted as a T.A. and one of my students was Brendan Mess—hilarious and talented and a victim of the 2011 unsolved triple murder” that authorities pinned on Tamerlan. My two best friends from high school, Alice and Olivia,* now work as nurses in Boston. On April 15th, Alice waited at the finish line with her husband and family when the bombs went off. Olivia, an ER nurse, was working the night shift on Thursday when Tamerlan arrived in an ambulance, his body riddled with bullets; she was also there on Friday, when authorities brought in Dzhokhar. She had to care for them both.

Despite these instances of proximity, I don't mean to suggest that the Boston Marathon bombings were my tragedy. On April 15th, I lived far away and watched events unfold on the television. It was a horror, and though I have felt dismayed and enraged, I will never know the rage and dismay and terror of those who survived.

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