Inside Death Penalty Decisions: From Timothy McVeigh to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Friday, January 31, 2014

People hold a moment of silence near the Boston Marathon finish line on one week anniversary of the bombings on April 22, 2013 in Boston, MA. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty)

When it comes to the death penalty, Attorney General Eric Holder's views have long been clear: He personally opposes the death penalty, but at times sees the need to use it as a way to enforce the full extent of the law.

Now the attorney general has made the most high-profile death penalty decision of his career—yesterday he announced that the Justice Department will pursue capital punishment for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 20-year-old Chechen-American accused of plotting and executing the Boston Marathon bombings with his brother, Tamerlan.

Should Tsarvaev be ultimately sentenced to death? It would mark the most significant death penalty case carried out by the federal government since Timothy McVeigh, the man behind the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

McVeigh was sentenced to death in 1997 for a plot that killed 168 people and injured scores more.

Vicki Behenna, a former assistant U.S. attorney for Oklahoma, helped prosecute Timothy McVeigh. She remembers how the high-pressure case affected her already-grieving community, and understands well the current emotions expressed by many Bostonians.

She joins The Takeaway to explain how the federal government pursues the death penalty. 


Vicki Behenna

Produced by:

Jillian Weinberger


T.J. Raphael

Comments [3]

Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

I am on the barbed wire fence about the death penalty: sometimes innocent people hang,but guilty people walk.
In this case, you got this young kid with a scrambled brain who might have something interesting to say in 20 years. On the other hand, send him to the lions.
I would want future people considering terrorism, to believe that Governments come after friends and family of Terrorists as well.
(I've been around people who threaten not only the person they are having a problem with, but their friends and family. I have seen fights not happen after this threat. Maybe it is a New York thing, or maybe it is some of the people I know in New York.)

Jan. 31 2014 04:15 PM
Catherine Cutbill

As a cultural anthropologist and student of extremist Muslim ideology, I believe that a life sentence in an American prison is a more appropriate punishment for Tsaraev than the death penalty. As we have seen with Muslim suicide bombers, their belief system is that death is a sacrifice for Allah who rewards the act by immediate entry into "Paradise." For Tsarvaev, no matter what his particular motivation was, MARTYRDOM by "the Western infidel" leads to "celebration" by extremist Muslims and reifies hatred for the West.

Jan. 31 2014 03:46 PM

I am totally for the death penalty for Tsarvaev. Because that's what the Taliban would do.

Jan. 31 2014 02:18 PM

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