The deadly Boston Marathon bombings have reignited the death penalty debate, as one of the alleged bombers continues to recover in a Boston hospital from injuries suffered during a firefight. Massachusetts has no death penalty, but lawmakers are calling for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, to be prosecuted under the federal law.
"It should likely be a death penalty case under federal law," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman.
Tsarnaev, who has not had charges officially filed against him yet as he recovers from what officials call serious injuries, is the only remaining living suspect in the April 15 bombings, which killed three people and seriously injured dozens. After law enforcement officials released the images of their suspects, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, on Thursday, the two went on a rampage that resulted in the death of a local campus policeman and later Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who escaped after an exchange where more than 200 rounds of ammunition were fired, hid out in a boat in a Watertown, Mass., backyard while the city of Boston remained on lockdown for nearly 12 hours. He was discovered and captured Friday evening.
In the past, the death penalty debate in the United States has ripped across political and religious lines. According to Gallup surveys, the only time more Americans opposed the death penalty was in 1966, when 47 percent were against it and 42 percent were in favor of it. Peak support for the death penalty was in 1994, when 80 percent favored it and just 16 percent opposed it.
Current polling from December 2012 shows 63 percent of Americans support the death penalty versus 32 percent who oppose it, according to Gallup.
Because Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is being portrayed as someone led astray by his more radical brother, some have speculated federal prosecutors will press for life in prison rather than for the death penalty. Religious leaders, namely Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, have also made pleas for leniency despite the horrific crimes.
"The gospel is the antidote for the 'eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth' mentality," he said during a remembrance service Sunday.
"There are other ways of punishing people, and protecting society, without killing them," O'Malley said afterward to reporters, according to the Boston Globe, adding explicitly that he does not support the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
But another top Democrat, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, also cited the relevance of the federal law Sunday.
"The federal law allows the death penalty," said Schumer on CNN's "State of the Union." Schumer added that he helped write the federal law in 1994 while chairing the House Judiciary subcommittee on crime.