My Century article on death-penalty abolition & life without parole

August 4, 2015

In May, a federal jury sentenced the surviving Boston Marathon bomber to death. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s lawyers had acknowledged his guilt and focused on humanizing him in hopes of avoiding a death sentence and getting instead a life sentence without the possibility of parole. The jury went the other way—a decision that met a lukewarm response on the streets of Boston. “They ought to demonstrate a little humanity,” one man told the New York Times.

Later that month, Nebraska’s legislature abolished the death penalty and, like many states before, replaced it with life without parole (LWOP). State senator Ernie Chambers called the vote a chance to bring Nebraska “into the light of civilization and humane justice.”

It’s a familiar theme: executions are barbaric; LWOP is the humane alternative. For 40 years, this idea has dominated the rhetoric and policy making of death-penalty opponents in the United States. So last fall when Pope Francis censured LWOP as a “hidden death sentence,” he was going pretty sharply off the script. We’re accustomed to contrasting the two punishments. The pope equated them, denouncing both.

He has a strong case... Read the rest of my article from the new issue of the magazine.