Parents of murdered boy want life, not death, for Boston bomber

Martin Richard (CNS/Reuters/Courtesy of Bill Richard)
Martin Richard (CNS/Reuters/Courtesy of Bill Richard)

G. Jeffrey MacDonald

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Parents of Martin Richard, the 8-year-old boy killed in the Boston Marathon bombings of April 2013, called on the government Friday to end their quest for the death penalty and give the bomber life in prison.

In a statement published on the front page of Friday's Boston Globe, William and Denise Richard said the continued pursuit of a death sentence for convicted bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev "could bring years of appeals and prolong reliving the most painful day of our lives."

"We are in favor of and would support the Department of Justice in taking the death penalty off the table in exchange for the defendant spending the rest of his life in prison without any possibility of release and waiving all of his rights to appeal," William and Denise Richard wrote.

The government begins its case for the death penalty on Tuesday, when federal court reconvenes the jury that found Tsarnaev guilty on 30 counts earlier this month for his part in the attack that killed three and injured more than 260 people. In this upcoming penalty phase, jurors will decide whether Tsarnaev gets the death penalty or life in prison with no possibility for parole.

Though Tsarnaev's attorneys did not contest the charges in the trial's guilt phase, they're now expected to mount a vigorous case for a sentence of life in prison. Friday's open letter puts two of bombings' best-known victims in Tsarnaev's corner for this stage.

"As long as the defendant is in the spotlight, we have no choice but to live a story told on his terms, not ours," the Richards wrote. "The minute the defendant fades from our newspapers and TV screens is the minute we begin the process of rebuilding our lives and our family."

Gruesome details of Martin Richard's death figured prominently in the guilt phase. Prosecutors presented evidence including autopsy photos and Martin's clothing, shredded by a bomb placed behind him in a crowd of youthful spectators. Jurors were apparently moved to tears as some dabbed their eyes.

Early in the trial, William Richard took the stand for the prosecution. He recounted how the family had just bought ice cream cones and was preparing to leave the area after the sound of the first blast when the second bomb exploded where they were standing. He had to leave his dying son with his wife as he raced to get help for their 6-year-old daughter, Jane, who lost a leg in the blast.

"I just knew from what I saw that there was no chance -- the color of his skin and so on," Richard said about Martin. "I knew we had to act quickly or we might not only lose Martin. We might also lose Jane."

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty on a variety of grounds, including the heinous nature of the attacks and the defendant's lack of remorse. The defense is emphasizing that Tsarnaev was still a teenager, 19 at the time, and was heavily influenced by his older brother, Tamerlan, who was killed after Tsarnaev ran him over during a shootout with police.

[G. Jeffrey MacDonald writes for USA Today.]

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