Seeking death sentence in Boston bombing dead wrong

02/01/2014 12:00 AM

02/01/2014 9:17 PM

For all of my critics who have wondered when I would ever disagree with, challenge or outright defy U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, this might be your day.

Then, again, it might not.

I have the utmost respect for the attorney general and deem him to be an excellent student of the law, protector of the Constitution and a loyal defender of the current administration’s actions on many fronts, including the Justice Department encouraging clemency for those sentenced under the harsh crack cocaine laws.

But I strongly oppose his decision to seek the death penalty for the suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing, 20-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is charged with the deaths of three people and injuries to 260 others.

“The nature of the conduct at issue and the resultant harm compel this decision,” Holder said.

This is one instance when I believe he’s wrong.

Dead wrong.

I’ve fought against capital punishment all my adult life and debated against it from my high school years.

Yes, I’ve been challenged on it. Every time there is any heinous crime, locally or nationally, I get the same question: “If anyone deserves the death penalty, don’t you think he/she does?”

Usually my answer is “Yes, but . . . I don’t think anyone deserves to be put to death. A state or a country ought not be in the business of taking a life, no matter what the crime is.”

Every time someone is executed in this nation, it diminishes us as a people. I honestly believe that, and I make no exceptions based on one’s nationality or the magnitude of the crime.

I’m on record opposing the execution of Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

There’s a long list of other notorious killers for whom I’ve raised my voice, objecting to the use of capital punishment in their cases. Among them are Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter; John Allen Muhammad, the Washington-area sniper; and Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Of course, in Texas, which has executed more than 500 people since capital punishment was reinstated, I’ve cried out constantly against this barbaric act. It is even more disturbing here because this is a state that has a long reputation of convicting innocent people.

Although federal executions are much rarer, it is troubling every time the government decides it will seek the ultimate punishment for an individual.

For the young Tsarnaev, the government cites the defendant’s lack of remorse and the fact that one of the victims was an 8-year-old boy as reasons that qualify him for the death penalty.

Prosecutors also pointed out that he “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.”

Terrible acts indeed.

The very thought of what happened near the finish line of the Boston Marathon last year is painful. To see some of the victims who survived, minus some of their limbs, is heartbreaking.

There’s no way to comprehend how anyone could plan such an attack on innocent people, but then attacks on innocent people have become a common occurrence in our country.

We don’t know how to respond to them, except when the guilty parties are apprehended we cry for vengeance, not justice.

So, in the eyes of the government — and I’m sure in the eyes of many individuals — Tsarnaev, like many before him, “deserves” to die.

Holder and his prosecutors will make their case and, should Tsarnaev be found guilty and be executed, they will declare that justice has been served.

And I will declare that once again the nation itself is a killer.

About Bob Ray Sanders

Bob Ray Sanders


Bob Ray Sanders is often criticized for writing about things he could not have experienced because, some readers say, "he can't be that old." The truth is Bob Ray has been a professional journalist for 40 years and in three media: newspaper, television and radio.

A Fort Worth native who knows and cares about his community, and those with whom he shares this planet, this is a columnist who is not afraid to speak out on behalf of downtrodden people or the abused Earth.

Email Bob Ray at

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