Well I guess I was wrong about the jury in the Tsarnaev case.
Sounding a bit facetious (but not really) I did not expect them to play so willingly into the Tsarnaev brothers’ murderous hands. Nor show such mercy. To some of you doing that may not make much sense (and I would have to assume that most of you would be defense lawyers like me.) For the rest of you, read on.
Taking that second point first, since it is so much easier to explain, let’s begin with what it really feels like to be locked up in U.S. Federal Detention. I know. I have been there. No, not because I’ve been in trouble. It’s because I have been inside the “Belly of the Beast” visiting clients when there was some minor security breach and the entire facility, lawyers, visitors, and everyone else under the sun, are all “LOCKED DOWN“, and ordered to stay precisely where we were until the dust settled. It’s no fun. Really NO FUN.
When that has happened to me I have been sitting in a cavernous visiting room at the Federal Detention Center at Seatac, where federal prisoners for the Seattle and Tacoma Federal Courts are detained, most of them still presumed innocent and awaiting trial. Compared to what Tsarnaev would be facing with life in prison it is like a Sunday afternoon picnicking in Central Park. The room is not only huge, but as a lawyer I am relatively free to roam around it, chatting with other locked down lawyers, bemoaning our sad temporary fates, as natural sunlight streams through the (granted) slit windows, normally having relatively free access to our computers, able to stretch out a bit in the 5000 or so square feet of open floor space.
The worst time was when I was in there without a computer, with only a few pieces of paper in hand. It was a brief visit to review some last minute paperwork that the US Attorneys’ Office had just emailed to me that I had to get my client to sign that same day. No need for my normal stack of files and laptop since it was merely a matter of read, approve and sign.
But just as I was emerging from my short meeting the alarm sounded. LOCK DOWN! Argh. Poor widdle me. There I was. Stuck for almost the next THREE HOURS!! Can you imagine? Moi? No paper, no pens, no computer. No TV or phone or magazines or books. Not even any other lawyers to chat with since it was 7:30 a.m. and I was the only one inside at the time. Even the guard couldn’t chat as he was busy doing guard type stuff. And, no offence to my client, but we were finished and he was my client, not my best friend.
So, there I sat. And sat. Slowly going mad. Staring at those walls, which were admittedly half a football field apart. Getting claustrophobic. Feeling trapped. Like a rat. Trying to think of word games in my head. It seems confinement, even in a large open space, even for only a few short hours (no matter how long they seemed), was virtually unbearable. I was beginning to wonder how to use one of my ball point pens to dig a hole out of there (just kidding BOP!) when the “all clear” sounded.
I have never been so happy to breathe fresh air in my life as I wandered outside into the crowded parking lot, jets screaming overhead as they landed at Seatac, spewing foul exhaust all over me. I took a deep breath and held it in, Richie Havens suddenly competing with Bob Marley singing songs of freedom in my head.
You think I exaggerate? Try it sometime. Now multiply that by about a million. As in every second of every minute of every hour of every day of every month of every year for THE REST OF YOUR LIFE! The entire time squeezed into a tiny little cell, all alone, no one to talk to, four walls a few feet apart, constantly closing in on you. You think that’s getting off lightly? Think again. After my three hours I was starting to wonder if it might be better to just try to slit my throat with that ballpoint. Not really, but another three years and I might have. Another thirty or fifty or seventy or however long that Tsarnaev kid is gonna live on in Supermax and I for sure would have. And, don’t fret; it’s the Feds, not State Prison. They’ll make sure to keep him alive. The Death Chamber would start to look like the Promised Land if that was my future. I mean, by comparison to a quick exit, life in prison would be real punishment. Misery for eternity. Instead the jury elected to put him out of his misery. Relatively quickly by comparison. Or not, perhaps –which brings us back to the first point.
What This Means.
You see, by sentencing Tsarnaev to Death they have kept his cause alive. And the cause of his older brother, the one who planned it all and dragged his little bro’ along for the ride after filling him with hate and propaganda. To live on beyond either of them. The whole point of this insane murder spree by the Tsarnaevs was to draw attention to their “cause”. Lock up Dzhokhar for life, and trust me, he’s gone. I mean how often do we hear about Robert Kennedy’s killer, what’s his name, or even Charles Manson? Granted, every decade or so Big Media runs around, wringing their collective hands over the possibility that Manson might get paroled, even though we all know there is a snowball’s chance of that ever happening. But since he is famous and there are movies and Roman Polanski to keep reminding us, Manson helps sell aftershave and reverse mortgages. Henry Winkler must love the guy.
And those criminals have been in relatively liberal California prisons. Tsarnaev will be with Ted Kaczynski in Supermax. When is the last time you ever read one of his Unabomber screeds? Not to mention Zakarias Moussaoui, one of the 911 terrorists, who is only serving life in prison, not sentenced to Death. How does that work? He ranted and raved during his entire trial, cursing everyone in court to eternal damnation. And still he lives.
Life inside? Bye bye. Bye bye Jihadist cause. Bye bye notoriety. And above all else, BYE BYE MARTYRDOM. Because that is perhaps the worst aspect of this. This jury, although I totally understand their decision and it would be wrong to disparage them for just doing their jobs as they saw fit, are creating a hero. It was the Government’s mistake, not theirs.
I may be wrong, but as far as I know this will be the first “Jihadist” that our criminal justice system is going to kill. I am not including the drone strikes and helicopter raids to take out the Bin Laden types. I mean, from the Jihadi perspective, a slow, deliberate, VERY PUBLIC, mission by the United States Government to murder one of “their own”. Trust me. They are gonna be ululating in the streets over this one. And of that prediction I am supremely confident. It is not if, but when.
And, therein lies the problem. We are blowing this up. The appeals and idiot pundit coverage and constant reminders of this heinous crime will live on and on and on, even after we kill this kid. We just made him a superstar in the eyes of the entire radical whatever-you-want-to-call-it world. (I don’t like to say Muslim since the vast majority of them totally reject this madness.)
Perhaps the aspect of this that bothers me the most involves the parents of that poor innocent little boy, Martin Richard, who was right there in front of the bomb that Tsarnaev placed on the street that day. His parents stated in a compelling plea to the Government that they did not want the death penalty for Tsarnaev. That should have been given at least as much weight as the Government’s ongoing (and totally understandable) argument that the murder of the little boy justified the Death Penalty. And this is where I just might have a solution.
Years ago it occurred to me that the best way to fix this whole death penalty mess would be to get the Government out of the business. Instead why not create a defense to murder that would allow family members to get into a ring with the bad guys and beat them slowly to death? I mean if anyone had hurt my kids growing up I would have given my right arm for a chance to do that. Why not let the relatives do the dirty work? Let them kill the guy. It would make more sense. And even the radicals would be able to accept that perhaps.
I make that suggestion (sort of) as I began this. Facetiously. But only partially. If that idea makes you recoil in horror at the thought of creating a gruesome scenario where people are murdering other people with government approval, think again. Because that is precisely what we are doing when we sentence someone to death. Except the Government, with no personal investment really, is doing the deed. How can that possibly be more morally correct? Ask yourself that.
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