There is no denying that the crimes of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are, as described by the federal Department of Justice Thursday, “heinous, cruel and depraved...” Those words could be used to describe government using its considerable power to kill someone, which is the foremost reason among several why the Justice Department erred in its decision to seek the death penalty for Mr. Tsarnaev.
Three people were killed and 260 were injured, many of them losing limbs, in the twin bombings of last Patriots Day. The Justice Department said that the attack was especially cruel because the large crowds gathered to watch the end of the “iconic event” in Boston were particularly susceptible to a terrorist attack. The department also noted the “betrayal of the United States” by the alleged attackers — Mr. Tsarnaev's brother Tamerlan, who died while being chased by police in the aftermath of the bombing, is believed by have been a coconspirator — and Mr. Tsarnaev's lack of remorse in making its case for pursuit of the death penalty.
It is difficult to dispute any of this. There is also no disputing that Massachusetts does not have a death penalty and polls have consistently shown that a majority of state residents don't want one. Polls conducted in Boston have revealed solid opposition to the death penalty in Mr. Tsarnaev's case. The federal government is overriding the state, and it is doing so at a time when the death penalty is falling increasingly out of favor.
The slow deaths of a couple of recent convicts injected with drugs to cause their expiration have raised doubts that this common method is not “cruel and unusual.” Foreign manufacturers of these chemicals are increasingly reluctant to sell them to states because they don't want them used in this manner, which is forcing some states to consider returning to barbaric methods of execution like hangings and firing squads. Death penalty cases are far more costly to taxpayers than cases seeking life imprisonment, and if the Tsarnaev case follows the familiar route of appeal after appeal, the day in which Boston and the state can put that horrible day behind them will be delayed indefinitely.
If Mr. Tsarnaev, who is 20, is found guilty, he should spend the rest of what could be a long life in prison with no possibility of parole. That would be justice, and the Justice Department has detoured justice and clouded its path with its decision to pursue the death penalty.