Earlier this month, a jury convicted Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on a litany of counts relating to the Boston Marathon bombing two years ago and its aftermath. That same jury is also going to gather in the coming days to decide whether Tsarnaev should be sentenced to death for his actions.
The parents of Martin Richard, the 8-year-old boy killed in the explosion, do not want to wait. In an open letter, they called on the federal government to stop seeking the death penalty, which they said could lead to years of appeals that would only prolong the case.
“We are in favor of and would support the Department of Justice in taking the death penalty off the table in exchange for the defendant spending the rest of his life in prison without any possibility of release and waiving all of his rights to appeal,” William and Denise Richard wrote in a statement published Friday on the front page of the Boston Globe.
In their letter, they outline the brutal situation they have faced since the April 2013 bombing. They described how they grieved for one child while also facing their own injuries and severe injuries to their young daughter, Jane, who lost most of her left leg.
“We understand all too well the heinousness and brutality of the crimes committed,” they said. “We were there. We lived it. The defendant murdered our 8-year-old son, maimed our 7-year-old daughter, and stole part of our soul.”
Martin was one of three people killed in the explosions, which also injured more than 260 others. His age is expected to be cited by prosecutors as an “aggravating factor” that the jurors should consider when debating whether Tsarnaev should be sentenced to lethal injection or life in prison without parole.
The U.S. federal death penalty statute lists several potential aggravating factors when considering a possible death sentence, one of which is whether victims were “particularly vulnerable” because of their age. When prosecutors announced that they intended to seek the death penalty, they wrote in their court filing last year that Richard “was particularly vulnerable due to youth.”
While Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. personally opposes capital punishment, he said last year that prosecutors would still seek the death penalty due to “the nature of the conduct at issue and the resultant harm.”
Tsarnaev was found guilty on all 30 counts he faced, and 17 of them carried a possible death sentence. Jurors selected for this case had to demonstrate that they could be impartial and they also had to show they were willing to sentence Tsarnaev to death if he was convicted. The penalty phase in the trial begins next week.
During the trial, William and Denise Richard wrote, they had to revisit everything that took place the day of the bombing. They sat in the federal courthouse, watching as prosecutors presented evidence “that included graphic video and photographs, replicated bombs, and even the clothes our son wore his last day alive,” they said.
William Richard gave a nearly hour-long testimony during the trial, outlining in grim detail the family’s experiences that day. “That’s Jane with two legs,” he said when shown a photo of the family at the marathon before the blasts. After the explosions, he sought help for his children and went to check on Denise and Martin.
“When I saw Martin’s condition, I knew he wasn’t going to make it,” Richard said during his testimony. He added: “At that time, I saw my son alive, barely, for the last time.”
At one point during the trial, prosecutors played a video of Tsarnaev planting one of the bombs near the 8-year-old boy, saying that his body was“destroyed” in the blast.
“His entire body was shattered. It was broken, eviscerated, burned,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Aloke Chakravarty said. “There wasn’t a part of this boy’s body that wasn’t destroyed.”
While the Richards say they appreciate “the tireless and committed prosecution team,” they said they just wanted the case to be over. The Richards said that they were speaking only for themselves and not for any of the other survivors or families of the victims.
If the jurors do sentence Tsarnaev to death, that “could bring years of appeals and prolong reliving the most painful day of our lives,” the Richards said. That lengthy process could also lead to their surviving children growing up with an ongoing reminder of what the family lost, they added.
“As long as the defendant is in the spotlight, we have no choice but to live a story told on his terms, not ours,” they said. “The minute the defendant fades from our newspapers and TV screens is the minute we begin the process of rebuilding our lives and our family.”
— Matt Viser (@mviser) April 17, 2015