Possibility of death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev provokes a range of reactions

After escaping from a police shootout in Watertown, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev hid in a boat stored in a nearby back yard. A State Police photographer shot this picture of him surrendering, with the red dots of police laser sights on his head. –AP

From Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s roommate in college freshman year to Governor Deval Patrick, reactions varied today to the news that federal prosecutors have decided to pursue the death penalty against Tsarnaev, the young man accused in federal court in April’s deadly Boston Marathon terror bombings.

Jason Rowe, 20, Tsarnaev’s former roommate at UMass Dartmouth, said he found out through a news alert on his phone. He said it brought back vivid memories of the bombings and the “seriousness of the situation and everything that happened.’’

Now a junior, Rowe said he was unemotional about the death penalty news because he felt Tsarnaev was a stranger to him.


Even though they shared a room for their entire freshman year, he said, “Clearly, I didn’t know him like I thought I did.’’

Jarrod Clowery, a 36-year-old carpenter from Milville whose legs were badly burned and struck by shrapnel during the bombings, said the news had no effect on him.

“I’m moving on with my life,’’ he said. “It has no bearing on my life whatsoever … I don’t even think about the trial or anything like that. [The attackers] were tried and convicted by a power higher than us the moment they did what they did.’’

Tsarnaev, 20, has pleaded not guilty to 30 federal charges in the twin bombings April 15 that killed three people and wounded more than 260 others. He has been in custody since his capture several days after the bombings, which devastated a renowned sporting event, rocked the region, and made headlines around the world.

In potential death penalty cases, federal prosecutors must declare at the outset whether they are seeking the death penalty. US Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced today he had authorized the US attorney’s office in Boston to seek the penalty.

Tsarnaev’s brother, Tamerlan, 26, who allegedly joined him in the attack, was killed in a confrontation with police in Watertown several days after the attack. Hours later, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured. Both brothers allegedly killed an MIT police officer before the Watertown confrontation. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is also facing state murder charges in that case.


Gilberto Tercetti Jr., owner of Junior Auto Body in Somerville, knew the Tsarnaev family. He said the death penalty decision announced today was “awesome.’’

Tercetti said he once had tender feelings toward Tsarnaev, who used to come to his auto body shop regularly when he was a boy because he loved cars. Tercetti knew Tsarnaev’s father through the auto repair business, and Tercetti’s shop was blocks from the Tsarnaev family’s Cambridge home. Just weeks before the bombing, Tsarnaev had brought a college friend’s car for repairs at the shop.

But Tercetti said his opinion of Tsarnaev radically changed after he realized the destruction Tsarnaev and his older brother had caused. When someone from Tsarnaev’s defense team approached him recently about being a possible character witness, Tercetti said he responded by saying, “Are you crazy? How dare you come to me?’’

Tercetti said he liked to see the death penalty on the table in this case, but he also wouldn’t mind seeing Tsarnaev languish for decades in isolation in prison because, in some ways, “death is too easy.’’

If he gets life without parole, he said, “at least, you know he’s suffering.’’

Steve Fiola, of Fitchburg, a first lieutenant with the Army National Guard, was at the finish line and helped pull scaffolding away so rescuers could reach victims.

He said he was not for or against the death penalty. But he said in this case, he supported the attorney general’s decision because of the comfort it will bring to some victims.


“This is the most severe punishment that they could seek and that is indicative of the level of commitment the justice system has in going after this and that will help everyone in their recovery,’’ he said.

“There is solace in the dedication of the justice system,’’ he said.

Fiola and 15 other Guard members under his command had marched the Marathon route to honor fallen comrades; they had carried heavy loads meant to mimic those that soldiers carry on training marches.

After pulling away the scaffolding, Fiola aided the injured, applying tourniquets and helping to put out a fire burning one man.

Former Boston police commissioner Edward F. Davis, who led the department during the attacks and the aftermath, said Holder’s decision to seek the death penalty was not surprising, given the strength of the evidence against Tsarnaev.

“I support the decision,’’ Davis said. “The attorney general, who I know personally, doesn’t enter into a decision like this lightly. I think it’s the right decision.’’

Davis said he hoped a jury would have the option to select the death penalty, rather than have prosecutors and the defense reach a plea agreement for a life sentence.

“It doesn’t make any difference to me how it plays out,’’ he said, regarding whether Tsarnaev is executed. “This is a crime against the Commonwealth and against the nation. … I think the facts and circumstances dictate that this should be an option for the jury.’’

Edward P. Deveau, police chief in Watertown where the Tsarnaev brothers engaged in the showdown with police in which an MBTA officer was seriously wounded, said, “I support the decision that was made today, and we’re pleased to see the court case continue on. I think it’s a well-thought out decision, based on all the facts that have been outlined by the US attorney general. I support it based on that. I have spoken to my officers here, and they feel the same way.’’

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley said her thoughts “continue to be with the victims who were murdered and their families, as well as the other victims who are still dealing with the horrific consequences of this grievous and intentional act of terror. The Marathon bombers may have tried to put the people of Boston in fear, but instead only made us stronger and brought us together as a Commonwealth.’’

Governor Deval Patrick said, “One way or another, based on the evidence, Tsarnaev will die in prison.’’

“In each milestone of this case — today’s announcement, the trial and every other significant step in the justice process — the people hurt by the Marathon bombings and the rest of us so shocked by it will relive that tragedy. The best we can do is remind each other that we are a stronger Commonwealth than ever, and that nothing can break that spirit,’’ Patrick said in a statement.

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said his thoughts and prayers were with the families of the victims and survivors. “I can’t imagine what they are feeling today. Over the past nine months, the people of Boston have shown the world that we are a city full of heart and courage. We stand together as One Boston in the face of evil and hatred. Attorney General Holder has applied the law in this case, and I support the process that brought him to this decision,’’ he said in a statement.

Carol Rose, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said in a statement that her organization was disappointed in Holder’s decision and that it opposes the death penalty “because it is discriminatory and arbitrary, and inherently violates the Constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment.’’

Rose noted that Massachusetts does not have a death penalty under state law. She pointed out how the community rallied around the slogan, “Boston Strong,’’ which, she said, “means not letting terrorists or anyone else shake us from staying true to our values.’’

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