Martin Richard. (EPA/NEIGHBORHOOD HOUSE CHARTER SCHOOL)

Update: Tsarnaev was sentenced to death Friday afternoon in a courtroom in Boston. We are re-upping this post from April 17.

Martin Richard was 8 years old on April 15, 2013, when he was killed by a bomb placed near his family along the final few hundred yards of the Boston Marathon. The man who planted the bomb, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was just found guilty of the crime and might now face the death penalty.

But Martin's parents, Bill and Denise Richard, oppose the death penalty for Tsarnaev, as they explained in a brief, direct essay in the Boston Globe. It's not because they oppose the death penalty, necessarily, but because they can't bear several more years of debate as an appeal from Tsarnaev makes its way through the courts.

We reported Friday morning that support for the death penalty itself continues to slip downward, particularly among Democrats. Americans generally have a complex array of beliefs about the topic (as they do so many other things), but the long-term trend is clear. In 1995, two decades after the death penalty was reinstated and just past the peak of America's crime wave, support for the death penalty hit 78 percent. Now, it's at 56 percent.

But again, that's not the Richards' objection. "We are in favor of and would support the Department of Justice in taking the death penalty off the table," they write, "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."

Later, they add:

As long as the defendant is in the spotlight, we have no choice but to live a story told on his terms, not ours. 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.

In part because of the nature of the irreversible punishment, the appeals process for death penalty cases has grown longer and longer. Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that the average time between sentencing and execution was nearly 16 years in 2012, up from about six in the early 1980s.


It has been two years since Martin Richard was killed. Rather than face the prospect of spending perhaps another two decades reintroducing the same evidence, hearing the same story of the moments before and after their little boy was murdered, the Richard family would like to put it behind them.

They'd rather sacrifice the "ultimate punishment" than spend twice as long discussing their son's death as they spent enjoying his short life.