58 Percent Of Bostonians Oppose Death Penalty For Bomber, Poll Finds

Originally published on December 14, 2015 4:56 pm
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The second phase of the Boston Marathon bombing trial begins next week. The same jurors who found Dzhokhar Tsarnaev guilty will decide whether he should be sentenced to death or be imprisoned for life. Member station WBUR conducted a poll in greater Boston, and 58 percent of those surveyed said they oppose the death penalty for Tsarnaev. Asma Khalid reports on the conflicting emotions the case is raising in Boston.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Many people here say the death penalty contradicts local values. No one's been executed in Massachusetts for nearly 68 years. But this bombing trial is a federal case. That's why the death penalty is an option. And in order to serve, jurors had to agree that they could impose that punishment. But out on the streets of Boston, that's not an easy judgment call. I met Steve Cavallo after mass at St. Patrick's Church in Watertown. That's the Boston suburb where Tsarnaev was caught hiding in a boat two years ago.

STEVE CAVALLO: I'm really not a fan of the - supportive of the death penalty, but it's so horrible and - I can't even describe what they did.

KHALID: Cavallo sounds tentative, like he's walking himself through this decision out loud. He says executing Tsarnaev is a really difficult moral dilemma.

CAVALLO: Because I don't believe in it, but I feel that it's probably warranted in this case.

KHALID: But his church leaders say it's not. Last week, the Roman Catholic bishops of Massachusetts put out a statement quoting Pope Francis who described the death penalty as an offense against the dignity of the human person.

In Islam, there's no similar sweeping prohibition against the death penalty, and the ethics of capital punishment are determined on a case-by-case basis. In this case, Abdul Cader Asmal says he has little mercy for Tsarnaev. We speak after midday prayers at Boston's central mosque.

ABDUL CATER ASMAL: I think a death penalty would be an appropriate punishment for a person who had no remorse during his trial.

KHALID: For Asmal, this is personal. He despises the bomber for killing people and using Islam to justify the attack.

ASMAL: I think we need to send a strong signal to would-be terrorists that this is the punishment that they would face if they go around killing innocent people.

EMILY HODGE: I'm just fundamentally opposed to killing a human being.

KHALID: Emily Hodge was running the marathon the year the bombs exploded. She never finished the race. We meet at a sports store before she heads out on a practice run for this Monday's marathon.

HODGE: I've always been opposed to the death penalty since long before the Marathon bombing, but I will say that the Marathon bombing did make me second guess myself. And that was hard.

KHALID: Still, she hopes the jury chooses life without parole for Tsarnaev.

HODGE: I think the punishment of him is much more about our justice system and our beliefs as a better group of people than maybe he is. I don't know.

KHALID: The WBUR poll finds only 31 percent of people believe Tsarnaev should get the death penalty. Last week, the Boston Globe published an editorial that argued the jury should spare Tsarnaev from execution. If that happens, he would likely be shipped off to the super max prison in Colorado to spend 23 out of 24 hours a day in solitary confinement. For NPR News, I'm Asma Khalid in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.