Anti-capital punishment advocate nun argues for Boston bomber sentence

One of the United States’ leading opponents of the death penalty has spoken on behalf of the Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Sr Helen Prejean, famously played by Susan Sarandon in the 1995 film Dead Man Walking, was invited to speak by Mr Tsarnaev’s lawyers in an attempt to convince a jury to sentence Mr Tsarnaev to life in prison rather than the death penalty.

Relating how she had met with Mr Tsarnaev five times since March, she told how he discussed his feelings about the victims of the 2013 bombing that killed three people and injured more than 260.

She told the jury that, “He said emphatically, ‘No one deserves to suffer like they did’”,  adding that she believed his regret was genuine.

Polls suggest that most Bostonians believe Mr Tsarnaev should not be sentenced to death, but although Massachusetts abolished capital punishment in 1984, the marathon bombing constitutes a terrorist offence, and as such is being tried in federal court, where the death penalty remains an option.

Massachusetts’ Catholic bishops released a letter last month restating the Church’s position, saying: “The defendant in this case has been neutralized and will never again have the ability to cause harm. Because of this, we, the Catholic Bishops of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, believe that society can do better than the death penalty.”

Most U.S. Catholics still support the death penalty, which was opposed last month in a joint editorial across several Catholic publications. Bishops in the state of Virginia have reminded Catholics that “our faith challenges us to declare sacred even the least lovable among us, those convicted of committing brutal crimes which have brought them the ultimate penalty, the penalty of death”.