Jus­tice Depart­ment lawyers will soon decide whether to seek the death penalty in the case of alleged Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsar­naev. They will focus on the crime, and per­haps the youth of the crim­inal (the United States appar­ently hasn’t exe­cuted a teenager in over 100 years) and not on the ran­dom­ness or value of cap­ital pun­ish­ment, a penalty increas­ingly dis­carded by the states either through abo­li­tion (Mary­land is the latest) or offi­cial indif­fer­ence (California’s death row pop­u­la­tion is over 700).

Whitey Bulger, the accused mur­derer of 19, will come to trial this week in Boston, but the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is not seeking the death penalty in his case. Then there is Gary Leon Ridgway, known as the Green River Killer, who admitted killing 49 women, most by stran­gu­la­tion, and is actu­ally thought to have mur­dered many others. He is serving life terms in the Wash­ington State Penitentiary.

In con­trast, take Carlos De Luna, con­victed of killing a Texas gas sta­tion atten­dant in 1983 under cir­cum­stances where, according to one ana­lyst, all of the “essen­tial players in the crim­inal jus­tice system — police, pros­e­cu­tors, defense counsel and judges — failed com­pletely,” pre­venting a trial that was “in any sense” fair and just. The man who De Luna insisted was the mur­derer even­tu­ally admitted he had in fact done the killing but De Luna had been exe­cuted in 1989.

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