A jury in Boston is considering whether the Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, should be executed or isolated for the rest of his life at the Administrative Maximum Security Facility in Florence, Colo. Tsarnaev— assuming his attorneys are speaking for him—wants to live, although at age 21 he could anticipate more than half a century of confinement in a place “so isolating that it has been called a clean version of hell.”
If you were convicted of a heinous crime and had to choose, which punishment would you pick?
A. Execution. After a last meal, a prayer and some wrenching farewells to your family, you will be strapped to a gurney and administered a lethal intravenous cocktail that will put you to sleep and then Put You to Sleep. The federal government is out of practice (the last federal execution was Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh in 2001, who said he welcomed what he called “state-assisted suicide.”) The lethal formula the feds employ has not been disclosed, so there is some chance your end will be unpleasant. You might want to read The Atlantic’s reconstruction of the excruciating death of Clayton Lockett, executed in Oklahoma in December. On the other hand, there is the possibility that during the decade or more of your appeals the Supreme Court or Congress will abolish the death penalty. It doesn’t seem likely, but who knows?
B. Life in a supermax. You will spend the next 50 years or so alone in a 12 x 7-foot cell with a single window four inches wide, at the supermax in the Rockies. Tsarnaev’s lawyers, hoping to convince jurors that this was punishment enough, showed aerial photos of the facility over the objections of the prosecutor, who said the photos were “calculated to make ADX look like an extremely forlorn, forbidding institution.” They succeeded. Inmates at the supermax are permitted two 15-minute phone calls a month, and visits only from parents and siblings. Your mail will be censored, and you will be watched by a closed-circuit camera around the clock. For one hour a day, a wire cage similar to a kennel run will be affixed to a door in your cell and you will be allowed “outside” for “recreation.” Human rights groups call this form of incarceration “torture.” Then again, the prosecutors pointed out that there’s no guarantee you won’t be given a “step-down” to less oppressive conditions.
Those are your options. What, as they say, is your poison?