Why parents of 8-year-old Boston Marathon bombing victim oppose death penalty

With the penalty phase of the Boston Marathon bombing trial a few days away, family members of several victims have called for the bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, to be spared the death penalty.

Brian Snyder/Reuters
The family of Boston Marathon bombing victim Martin Richard and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh (l.) walk along Boylston Street following a ceremony at the site of the second bomb blast on the second anniversary of the bombings in Boston, Massachusetts, April 15. Martin Richard's father Bill (c.) smiles as he walks behind his daughter Jane (2nd l.), son henry (3rd r.) and wife Denise (r.).

Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found guilty last week, but his punishment is yet to be determined. The death penalty is an option, but not in the eyes of some of the family members of his victims.

A second phase of the trial will begin next Tuesday, the day after the running of the 2015 Boston Marathon, and is expected to last at least four weeks. The same jury that convicted Mr. Tsarnaev will listen to more evidence and ultimately decide whether he should be sentenced to death or to life in prison without possibility of release. The April 2013 attacks resulted in four deaths and more than 260 injuries.

Some family members are voicing concern that a death sentence for Tsarnaev would not bring them closure or a sense of justice.

Bill and Denise Richard, parents of 8-year-old victim Martin Richard, wrote in an essay published Friday in The Boston Globe that a death sentence would only lead to lengthy appeals and draw out the anguish for their family.

"We know that the government has its reasons for seeking the death penalty, but the continued pursuit of that punishment could bring years of appeals and prolong reliving the most painful day of our lives," the Richards wrote. "We hope our two remaining children do not have to grow up with the lingering, painful reminder of what the defendant took from them, which years of appeals would undoubtedly bring."

"The minute the defendant fades from our newspapers and TV screens is the minute we begin the process of rebuilding our lives and our family," they added.

The Richards said they want the death penalty off the table in exchange for Tsarnaev taking life in prison and waiving all his rights of appeal.

The sister of Sean Collier, an MIT police officer who was shot to death by the Tsarnaev brothers car a few nights after the bombings, wrote in a posting on her Facebook and Twitter accounts that the execution of Tsarnaev would not bring her "peace and justice."

Jennifer Lemmerman, a graduate of the Boston College School of Social Work and an alderwoman in Melrose, Mass., wrote that her position "has nothing to do with some pursuit of forgiveness."

"I can’t imagine I’ll ever forgive him for what he did to my brother, to my family, and I’ll have to live with that for the rest of my life, whether he is on this earth or not,’’ wrote Ms. Lemmerman, according to The Boston Globe. "But I also can’t imagine that killing in response to killing would ever bring me peace or justice. Just my perspective, but enough is enough. I choose to remember Sean for the light that he brought. No more darkness."

Lemmerman added that her opposition to the death penalty has increased with her experiences.

"Whenever someone speaks out against the death penalty, they are challenged to imagine how they would feel if someone they love were killed. I’ve been given that horrible perspective and I can say that my position has only strengthened," she wrote.

The majority of Boston-area residents have similar sentiments, according to polling done by the MassINC Polling Group for Boston public radio station WBUR. In the survey, conducted days after Tsarnaev's conviction, 58 percent of respondents said they support life in prison for Tsarnaev, while 31 percent support the death penalty. Support for the option of life in prison increased 10 percentage points since polling was conducted last month.

Tsarnaev was found guilty of all 30 charges against him last week. In the penalty phase of the trial, a death sentence would require a unanimous decision by the jury.

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