Prosecutors raise stakes in Boston Marathon terror trial

Seeking the death penalty against the accused Boston Marathon bomber is more than simply a legal maneuver by federal prosecutors.

It’s about assuring the families of the three innocents killed in the twin blasts, the 260 wounded and the American people that such acts of terrorism will not be treated as just another crime committed in America. The full force of the law will be brought to bear.

It comes as no surprise that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder gave the lead prosecutor the go-ahead to file a notice in federal court.

“Dzhokhar Tsarnaev received asylum from the United States; obtained citizenship and enjoyed the freedoms of a United States citizen; and then betrayed his allegiance to the United States by killing and maiming people in the United States,” U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said in the filing.

Tsarnaev is facing 30 federal charges, over half of which carry a possible death sentence. He stands accused of using a weapon of mass destruction to kill.

Last April, two pressure-cooker bombs were planted — and detonated — near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. When the smoke from the blasts cleared, an 8-year-old boy, Martin Richard, was dead, as were Krystle Campbell, a 29-year-old restaurant manager from Medford, Mass., and Lu Lingzi, 23, a Boston University graduate student from China. At least 16 others lost limbs.

Prosecutors allege that Tsarnaev, who moved to this country from Russia about a decade ago, and his 26-year-old brother, ethnic Chechens from Russia, built and planted the two pressure-cooker bombs.

Days after the bombing, Tamerlan Tsarnaev died in a shootout with police during a getaway attempt; the younger brother, who was 19 at the time of the bombing, was wounded but escaped. He was later captured hiding in a boat parked in a yard in a Boston suburb.

Authorities have said that he scrawled inside the boat such things as “The US Government is killing our innocent civilians” and “We Muslims are one body, you hurt one you hurt us all.”

Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty.

The announcement that prosecutors are seeking the death penalty has reignited the debate in this country about capital punishment and whether the taking of a life is in keeping with this nation’s values.

While such a debate may have merit, the bottom line is that there’s a difference between an act of terrorism that causes death and destruction and, say, homicide.

The Tsarnaev brothers took full advantage of the freedoms that come with living in the greatest democracy in the world, and yet they had no qualms about perpetrating the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001, prosecutors say.

No guarantees

If Tsarnaev is tried in Massachusetts — his lawyers are still weighing the advantages and disadvantages — and is found guilty, there’s no guarantee a jury will vote to impose a death sentence. Polls show that a majority of Massachusetts residents oppose capital punishment.

However, given the fact that the target of the terrorist attack was the iconic Boston Marathon with its innocent, unsuspecting participants and spectators, jurors in the sentencing phase can be expected to set aside their personal feelings.

Images of the bomb blasts and the resulting carnage are still fresh in the minds of many Americans.

Marc Fucarile of Stoneham, Mass., who lost his right leg above the knee and suffered other severe injuries in the bombing, echoed the sentiments of many U.S. citizens about the death penalty when he said, “It shows people that if you are going to terrorize our country, you are going to pay with your life.”

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