Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in court

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in court

The day a Boston jury decided 21-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev deserved the death penalty for his part in the Boston Marathon bombing was the same day I finished reading the searing new book “One of Us” by Asne Seierstad which details in brutal fashion Andres Breivik’s 2011 slaughter of 77 Norwegians, 69 of them teenagers at a summer camp.

Breivik, a political terrorist and to some a madman (interestedly some of the families involved balk at calling him a madman, preferring he take responsibility for his horrible deeds), set off a truck bomb at a government building in Oslo and then made his way to an isolated island summer camp where he calmly shot dozens of teenagers at point blank range. Many of them begged for their lives but Breivik marched on, killing one at a time. He showed no mercy except for one boy he deemed too young to kill. When some teenagers swam to escape his bullets, he continued firing at them in the water.

For those murders, Breivik got the maximum sentence under the law in Norway — 21 years total. Not 21 years for each death — 21 years for 77 murders. There is no death penalty in Norway but it’s likely Breivik will never get out because the judges can extend his sentence five years at a time ad infinitum. The prisons in Norway are notoriously humane but Breivik when last heard from was suing authorities for better video games.

Whatever you think of the death penalty, it’s fascinating to witness how our country and Norway treated these two mass murderers. There were several times when I was reading “One of Us” that I was nearly brought to tears because Breivik was so cruel. Believe me, if anyone deserves a good beating, it’s this out of control narcissist. And yet, the Norwegian police treated him with kid gloves in the hours after the murder. Far from beating Breivik, the police provided him with food and drink on demand and actually began negotiating with him when he asked for for a computer in prison complete with specific software like Photoshop. Think about that — the afternoon he slaughtered dozens of innocents, he had the nerve to negotiate for better treatment and the police went along with it!!! It makes me long for the days of L.A. Confidential.

And now we have a Boston jury imposing the death penalty on impressionable 21-year-old Tsarnaev who was likely a stooge of his older murderous brother. That may be but the jurors deciding his fate were treated to day after day of his own inhumanity and decided to treat him in kind. Their opinion is the only one that matters. After reading “One of Us,” I came away thinking the Norwegian judges treated Breivik too humanely. He will go on living for years in his prison cell, playing video games, reading about his own exploits and enjoying them no doubt. In the end, I thought the Norwegian system of justice was far too humane for the likes of him but the judges hands were tied — he got the maximum. He deserves so much more.

And that brings me to the ultimate question — which country got it right?

  1. TycheSD says:

    The U.S. is a very different country than Norway – larger population, more diverse, more guns, more history of violence. But is that why Norway’s crime rate is so much less than ours? Is that why Norway’s recidivism rate is so much lower than ours? What is the reason? In my view, a lot of it has to do with the way they treat crime and criminals in Norway that makes a big difference. Murderers and rapists (the worst criminals, in my opinion) may act like animals, but that doesn’t mean we have to treat them that way. They don’t in Norway. There’s a reason these people are acting inhumanely, and many times, even they would be at a loss to tell you what those reasons are. Mostly, these people are sick – either long-term or temporarily. And, as they often say in Alcoholics Anonymous – some are sicker than others.

    There are major differences between Anders Breivik and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, in my opinion. If anything, the nature of who these people are and the results of their crimes would indicate that Breivik should be the one receiving the death penalty and Tsarnaev the 21 years with 5-year optional extensions, depending on rehabilitation. But if you are opposed to the death penalty, to life in prison without parole and to long-term solitary confinement, what SHOULD you do with people who have acted inhumanely, resulting in the death of others? You should try to rehabilitate them. You should give them a chance to redeem themselves in some way.

    Noted Texas death penalty defense lawyer, David Dow, and Marc Mauer of the Sentencing Project, both say that people “grow out of” criminal behavior. Most crime is committed by people when they are young. If a 21-year old is locked up for murder, that person will not be the same person at 41 years old. Very often they are changed people – and for the better. Why not tailor punishment to fit the crime AND the criminal? The death penalty and life without parole leave no possibility for change. These punishments reflect an attitude of vengeance, and are not compatible with a country that claims to place a high value on human rights.

    Many families of victims – and victims themselves, in the case of the Boston bombing, would be apoplectic if Tsarnaev was given a sentence less than life in prison without parole. They could not imagine him walking as a free man while their loved one is gone or their own legs are gone. But this attitude freezes attitudes at a point in time – with no possibility for change – either by Tsarnaev or his victims. And, this attitude reflects the harshly punitive attitude of the U.S. in general toward criminals. In the case of Anders Breivik, a number of parents of the teenagers he murdered were satisfied with his sentence, believing that the sentence he received reflected the type of country they are. That the U.S. routinely sentences people to death and executes them, routinely places people in solitary confinement for life – this too shows what kind of country we are. It’s not a very flattering picture.

  2. Paul LaRosa says:

    well said and you have a very good point — the sentences for the two men should be switched. that does seem more like justice. plus i agree with the defense lawyers who say that people ‘grow out’ of crime, that what they did as young men does not reflect who they are. i like that idea. thanks

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