Home News Afro Briefs Originally published May 02, 2013

Death Penalty Favored for Boston Bomber—But Not Among Blacks

by Zenitha Prince
Special to the AFRO

    This file photo provided Friday, April 19, 2013 by the Federal Bureau of Investigation shows Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Tsarnaev's legal defense is in the hands of Miriam Conrad, the chief federal public defender for Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. Conrad has asked a judge to appoint two additional lawyers with experience in death penalty cases. Photo/Federal Bureau of Investigation (AP File Photo)
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An overwhelming majority of Americans—but African Americans to a lesser degree—support the death penalty for the suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings should he be convicted, according to a recent national poll.

Seventy percent of those surveyed in the Washington Post-ABC News poll support capital punishment for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Federal prosecutors indicted the 19-year-old on capital charges of using a weapon of mass destruction and malicious destruction of property in the bombings that killed three and injured almost 200 persons.

Republican lawmakers wanted Tsarnaev, an American citizen, to be deemed an “enemy combatant” so he could be questioned at length without being read his Miranda rights before being released to the federal judicial system.

“In the aftermath of the tragic terrorist attack in Boston, Americans rightly seek justice. They also want to ensure that we collect as much information as we can from suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to keep Americans safe from other threats,” wrote GOP Sens. Kelly Ayotte, Lindsey Graham, and John McCain in an opinion piece published in The Boston Globe on May 1.

“That’s exactly why it was important to question Tsarnaev at length to find out whether the brothers had acted alone and whether there are any future attacks planned against us,” they wrote. “The decision to bring Tsarnaev immediately into our civilian system — where he was advised of his right to remain silent and given counsel — effectively cedes basic intelligence gathering to his defense lawyers.”

“While defense lawyers perform an important function in our society, they should not be the gatekeepers of intelligence vital to our national security,” the lawmakers stated.

Tsarnaev’s defense attorneys include not only public defenders but also Judith Clarke, a renowned lawyer in death penalty cases, according to news reports. Her clients have included Jared Loughner, who killed six people in the 2011 supermarket shooting in Tuscon, Ariz. that wounded then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D); and Theodore J. Kaczynski, the Unabomber.

According to the Washington-ABC News poll, however, 74 percent of Americans seemed to back the Obama administration’s decision to try Tsarnaev in federal courts rather than a military tribunal. That support was mostly consistent across political and racial lines.

Backing for Tsarnaev’s execution was also mostly comparable across party lines, although Democrats were the least likely to support the measure. Republicans (84 percent) were most supportive of the death penalty, followed by Independents (69 percent) and Democrats (64 percent).

But, there were wider racial gaps on support for the death penalty, reflecting ideological divisions that exist in the general public.

While three-quarters of White respondents supported the death penalty for Tsarnaev, only a little over half of African Americans support execution and 43 percent opposed it.

And Hispanics were also less likely to support the death penalty for Tsarnaev; 62 percent supported the punishment and 35 percent opposed.

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