Moran: Tsarnaev deserves death, but we deserve better.

By Keely Savoie

[Updated July 7, 2015.]

Professor of sociology Richard Moran is a criminologist and a leading expert on the insanity defense, capital punishment, and the history of the electric chair. Here he discusses the conviction and sentencing of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was just sentenced to death in federal court for the Boston Marathon bombing. Has justice been served?

If Tsarnaev had been sentenced to life in prison, that would have been the end of it. But now we will see countless appeals and he will be back in the news every few years. The scab will continue to be opened. It is doubtful he will ever be executed. Most death row prisoners die of natural causes.

I think that life in prison in solitary confinement would have been a better punishment.

Did Tsarnaev have a fair trial?

It was not neutral. In the Tsarnaev case, because the federal prosecutors were seeking the death penalty, you could not get on the jury if you did not support capital punishment. The jury was not a cross-section of the population. Death penalty supporters tend to be more authoritarian and more conviction-prone, or “tough on crime.”

If he is to be executed, lethal injection is the method used by the federal government. With all the issues with lethal injections in recent years, will this be a problem?

Proponents of the death penalty come up with methods that appear to be more humane to make it seem more palatable. [Ed. note: see The Marshall Project article here for more on that subject.]  Lethal injection is the only method you can imagine as a benign death, like a hospital patient slipping under anesthesia.

But in reality lethal injection is fraught with difficulties. It has a botch rate higher than any other method. In 1954 the British concluded that lethal injection was not reliable enough, and executed its death row prisoners by hanging until the death penalty was outlawed in that country.

Many people who do not support the death penalty in general have expressed a sense of vindication with this ruling. Does this change your thinking about the death penalty?

There is no question that Tsarnaev deserves the death penalty as an individual. But the question is not about Tsarnaev. It’s about all of us. The question becomes, “Who are we? Do we want to be the kind of people that meet violence with more violence?” It’s not just about Tsarnaev. It’s about all of us as a people.