Despite trial, Bostonians still oppose death penalty for Tsarnaev

A new poll, conducted amid the ongoing Boston Marathon bombing trial, also found that minorities in the Boston area favored life in prison even more.

Courtesy of US Attorney's Office in Boston/Reuters
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is pictured in this photo presented as evidence by the US Attorney's Office in Boston on Monday. Tsarnaev was heavily influenced by al Qaeda literature and lectures, some of which was found on his laptop, a counterterrorism expert testified at his trial on March 23.

The majority of Boston-area residents believe the accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be spared the death penalty and sentenced to life in prison if he is convicted, according to a new poll.

In a telephone survey of 504 registered Boston-area voters, 49 percent of respondents said Mr. Tsarnaev should be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Thirty-eight percent of respondents said he should receive the death penalty. The survey was conducted by The MassINC Polling Group for radio station WBUR from March 16 to 18, during the second week of the trial.

The poll is one of the first to come out during the trial, and is consistent with previous polls conducted before the trial. A Boston Globe poll from September 2013 found that one-third of city residents supported the death penalty in the case, while more than half of the respondents said they would prefer a sentence of life without parole.

Of the 504 surveyed voters, 229 came from the City of Boston itself. Those respondents favored life in prison over the death sentence to an even stronger degree with 62 percent saying Tsarnaev should be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, and 27 percent saying he should receive the death penalty.

Massachusetts has no state death penalty and a long history of opposition to capital punishment – no prisoner has been put to death in the state for more than 60 years – and that cultural sentiment appears to be persisting despite the often graphic and emotional testimony that has come out in the early weeks of the trial.

"Generally speaking, you’d expect the city of Boston to be anti-death penalty, but [the bombings] took place in Boston and everybody in Boston was affected in some way,” said Steve Koczela of The MassINC Polling Group, in an interview with WBUR. “To see such a strong preference in Boston for life in prison was not necessarily guaranteed or expected."

Siri Kyle Dupont-Hurley, 25 and a poll respondent from Dorchester, told WBUR that she doesn't "support taking lives for the sake of taking lives."

“I also think it’s a much more fitting punishment for someone who did the things that he did to live out his final days in prison," she added.

But not all respondents agreed. Poll respondent Don Portalla, 52, of East Boston said he thinks the death penalty also serves as an important deterrent.

“If you don’t have the death penalty [in this case], I think it’s a huge mistake,” Mr. Portalla told WBUR. “We can’t have people acting like this.”

Across various demographics, men were more in favor of the death penalty, while women, young people, and minority respondents favored life in prison. According to Mr. Koczela, these breakdowns were in line with the region's political views on the death penalty.

"The groups that tend to lean more Democrat also tend to be more opposed to the death penalty," he told WBUR.

The WBUR poll also revealed that most people in the Boston region are following the trial "somewhat closely," and have been more interested in other recent news events like the MBTA shutdown, the Boston 2024 Olympics bid, and the NFL concussion issue. Twenty-three percent of respondents said they were following the Tsarnaev trial "very closely," 17 percent said “not too closely” and 7 percent said “not at all.”

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