Parents of youngest Boston Marathon bombing victim want death penalty 'off the table' for Tsarnaev

Holly Bailey
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The family of Boston Marathon bombing victim Martin Richard joins Boston Mayor Marty Walsh at a ceremony at the site of the second bomb blast on the second anniversary of the bombings in Boston

The family of Boston Marathon bombing victim Martin Richard joins Boston Mayor Marty Walsh (R) at a ceremony at the site of the second bomb blast on the second anniversary of the bombings in Boston, Massachusetts April 15, 2015. Martin Richard's mother Denise (top L) hugs her daughter Jane (L) as father Bill (3rd L) and son Henry stand at their side after unveiling the banner for this year's race to be run April 20. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

The parents of the youngest victim of the Boston Marathon bombing are pressing federal prosecutors to drop their quest for the death penalty for convicted bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, arguing that a life sentence without parole would “end the anguish” of a continuing trial and what is likely to be years of appeals.

Bill and Denise Richard, whose 8-year-old son, Martin, was killed by the second of two pressure cooker bombs detonated near the finish line of the 2013 marathon, said in a lengthy statement published in Friday’s Boston Globe that Tsarnaev’s conviction in the guilt phase of the trial earlier this month ensures “justice will be served” and that it’s time “to bring the case to a close.”

“We know that the government has its reasons for seeking the death penalty, but the continued pursuit of that punishment could bring years of appeals and prolong reliving the most painful day of our lives,” the Richards wrote. “We hope our two remaining children do not have to grow up with the lingering, painful reminder of what the defendant took from them, which years of appeals would undoubtedly bring.”

The Richard family’s public appeal comes just days before opening arguments are set to begin in the penalty phase of the bombing trial, which is scheduled for Tuesday. On April 8, Tsarnaev, 21, was found guilty on all 30 charges stemming from the deadly attacks, which killed three people and injured nearly 300. Seventeen of those charges carry the threat of the death penalty, and the same jury will now decide if he lives or dies for his role in the bombings.

It’s unclear what impact the Richards’ sentiment might have on the case. In a statement, Carmen Ortiz, the U.S. attorney in Massachusetts whose office is prosecuting Tsarnaev, said she could not comment on the specifics of the case because it is ongoing, but said she had spoken to the Richards “many times” and was “aware of their views.”

“Over the past two years, I have heard from scores of survivors and victims about their feelings regarding this case. Many have strong views about the best way to proceed. Those views have been heard and have played a role--and continue to play a role--in the Department of Justice’s handling of this case,” Ortiz said in the statement. “As I have previously assured both Bill and Denise, I care deeply about their views and the views of the other victims and survivors. As the case moves forward we will continue to do all we can to protect and vindicate those injured and those who have passed away."

Behind the scenes, Tsarnaev’s attorneys for months have tried to negotiate a plea deal that would allow the defendant to plead guilty to his role in the bombings in exchange for a life sentence without parole. But prosecutors have repeatedly rebuffed those offers--even amid mixed feelings about the death penalty among senior Justice Department officials and victims.

Among the conflicted: Attorney General Eric Holder, who is personally against the death penalty, but agreed to pursue the death penalty against Tsarnaev in January 2014 in part to send a message that the U.S. would not tolerate such attacks.

At the same time, many victims have gone back and forth about what should happen to Tsarnaev, who, through his attorney Judy Clarke, admitted his role in the attacks on the first day of the trial.

Marc Fucarile, who lost part of his right leg in the bombings, initially came out in support of the death penalty. But earlier this year, Fucarile told reporters he believed capital punishment might be “too easy” for Tsarnaev. Earlier this week, Jennifer Lemmerman, the sister of MIT police officer Sean Collier who was shot and killed by the Tsarnaev brothers while on the run from police days after the attacks, also came out against the death penalty, saying it would not bring her “peace or justice.”

But the Richard family has been the enduring symbol of the horrors inflicted by Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, who was killed during a shootout with police days after the attacks. The Richard family had just returned from getting ice cream when they spotted an opening on the rail along Boylston Street that Monday afternoon, where the three kids could get a good view of the passing runners. They had been standing there for only a few minutes when Dzhokhar Tsarnaev walked up and stood behind them, dropping a backpack onto the ground.

In perhaps the most heart-wrenching testimony of the trial, Bill Richard recalled for jurors how he’d heard a blast down the street from the first bomb. He had just leapt over the rail and was trying to get his kids away when the second bomb went off, literally ripping his youngest son Martin’s body apart. Dazed and injured—his legs burned and bleeding from shrapnel from the bomb—Richard ran back toward his family, where he saw Martin dying. He found his daughter Jane, 7, burned and bloodied—her left leg missing. His wife Denise was trying to tend to Martin, but she could barely see. A piece of shrapnel had been blown into her left eye, permanently blinding her. Only their son Henry, then 11, was physically unscathed.

On the stand, Bill Richard calmly testified that his family had been merely "unlucky" that day and downplayed his own injuries, including partial hearing loss. "I can still hear you," he said. "I can still hear the beautiful voices of my family."

Prosecutors began and ended their case with images of Martin Richard and his family. They showed jurors eerie photos and video of Tsarnaev standing right behind the Richards, arguing he deliberately targeted the kids. And jurors were presented with gruesome evidence, including Martin Richard’s autopsy photos and the clothes he was wearing that day, bloodied and tattered. His parents attended the trial almost every day.

In the statement to the Globe, the Richards said they understood “the heinousness and brutality of the crimes committed” because they were there and lived it.” But they urged prosecutors to “turn the page, end the anguish, and look toward a better future--for us, for Boston, and for the country.”

“For us, the story of Marathon Monday 2013 should not be defined by the actions or beliefs of the defendant, but by the resiliency of the human spirit and the rallying cries of this great city. We can never replace what was taken from us, but we can continue to get up every morning and fight another day,” the Richards wrote. “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 minute the defendant fades from our newspapers and TV screens is the minute we begin the process of rebuilding our lives and our family.”