Massachusetts does not have a death penalty. It has not had one for over thirty years — since the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in 1984 that the state’s death penalty violated the state constitution. Yet, we have the spectacle of Charlie Baker, the state’s Republican governor, proclaiming on Wednesday that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who a United States district court trial jury had that day found guilty of counts related to the Boston Marathon bombing, should be executed in contravention of Massachusetts law.
Executing Tsarnaev is an option only because the United States Department of Justice decided to prosecute him in the US court system. Had that decision to intervene not been made, prosecution would have surely been pursued in the Massachusetts state court system where Tsarnaev would face incarceration upon a guilty verdict, but not execution.
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