The Justice Department is giving Dzhokhar Tsarnaev "what he wants" by seeking the death penalty
for last year's Boston Marathon bombings, Alan Dershowitz told Newsmax on Thursday.
"It will make him more famous," the former Harvard law professor said in an exclusive interview. "It'll attract more attention.
"It'll give him an opportunity to make his jihad statements. It will focus a lot of attention on whether he lives or dies. This is going to give him what he wants.
"After all, why did he commit this crime?" Derschowitz asked. "He had nothing against the people he killed. What he wanted to do was make a statement — and now, he's being given an opportunity to make that statement in an extreme context."
The Justice Department said
on Thursday that it would seek the death penalty against Tsarnaev who is accused of setting the bombs that killed three and injured more than 260 at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. He is also charged with killing police officer Sean Collier.
Tsarnaev, 20, is charged with planting two pressure-cooker bombs at the site with his older brother, Tamerlan, who was later killed in a shootout with police. They are ethnic Chechens from Russia who had lived in the Boston area for about a decade.
Seventeen of 30 charges against Tsarnaev carry the possibility of the death penalty, including using a weapon of mass destruction to kill. He has pleaded not guilty. No trial date has been set.
Attorney General Eric Holder made the final decision. The bombings were one of the most prominent terrorist attacks in the U.S. since 9/11.
Dershowitz told Newsmax that he was not surprised at Justice's decision.
"If there is ever a case, if there ever was a crime that calls for the death penalty, this is it: Premeditated. Massive numbers of intended victims. Three deaths — many, many injuries. No remorse. Open-and-shut factual case on the evidence.
"On the other hand," Dershowitz reasoned, "he is young and may have been influenced by his brother — but those mitigating factors don't even compare to the aggravating factors.
"I would still think the better course would've been to let him rot in jail and die 50 years from now an obscure prisoner rather give him the attention he's going to get as somebody facing the death penalty," he said.
Tsarnaev's case now will attract the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union and organizations that oppose the death penalty, Dershowitz predicted.
"He's going to be a martyr to some people who agree with him. I think we're giving him what he wants here.
"I think he wants the death penalty," he continued. "He was prepared to die in a shootout. He was prepared to probably die when he planted the bomb — and he's probably willing to die now as a martyr.
"I don't think we, as a society, gain much by putting him on trial for his life."
But Dershowitz commended Justice for not rushing to judgment in its decision.
"I suspect that there was quite a bit of debate within the Justice Department. There are probably a lot of people in this Justice Department who don't support the death penalty — and there are probably some who do.
"It's a credit to the Justice Department that they gave it the kind of thoughtful consideration, even though I think they came to the wrong decision."
There have only been three federal executions in the past 50 years. Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and triple murderer Juan Raul Garza were put to death within eight days of each other in June 2001, while Louis Jones who raped and murdered a soldier was executed in March 2003.
And getting a jury to sentence Tsarnaev to death is not assured — particularly in Massachusetts, which abolished the death penalty in 1984. The sentence can still be applied in federal cases tried in the state.
A Boston Globe survey found last year that 57 percent of the city's residents favored life in prison for Tsarnaev, if he is convicted, with 33 percent supporting execution.
"We don't know what the public really wants," Dershowitz told Newsmax. "We know the public, generally in Massachusetts, is against the death penalty — but many of the people who are against the death penalty would probably favor it in this case. Once they hear all the evidence, they may favor it.
"But remember," the law professor cautioned, "all you need is one juror saying 'no' and holding out — you can't impose the death penalty unless there's unanimity. It's certainly possible that they won't get the death penalty."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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