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.