I hadn’t put a lot of thought into the death penalty until I was lying on a sidewalk on Boylston Street two years ago. There, then, I believed that I was going to die and that my husband was already dead. But we’re still alive. I lost my leg below the knee; both of his legs were wounded. We are lucky.
When I woke up in the hospital, I decided not to use the name of the person on trial for the crimes against the two of us and more than 260 other people, including four murder victims, one of whom was 8 years old. Part of posttraumatic stress disorder is the feeling of losing control: one minute you’re holding your husband’s hand in beautiful, sunny Boston; the next, your life is changed forever. The killer never wanted to learn my name, so why should I learn his?
And I also decided early on that the death penalty was the verdict that I wanted for him. I believe in my heart of hearts that he knew exactly what he was doing the moment before he did it, and possibly months before that. Among other horrific charges, he used a weapon of mass destruction to intentionally harm and kill people.
You can’t use a weapon of mass destruction in the United States and not think that if you succeed, you’re going to face a federal jury and the possibility of the death penalty.
It must have been nice for him to be surrounded by a courtroom full of people fighting about whether he should live or die. None of us in Boston that day had such a luxury.
I testified in the penalty phase of the trial. When I was leaving the stand, I looked up and realized how close I was to him. I stood there and thought to myself, I wonder if he’s scared. I wonder if he’s scared that I’m this close. There didn’t seem to be security covering him. Nobody budged. Maybe it’s because of my tiny little arms that they didn’t think I could do much. I certainly know I really wanted to.
But I stood there. I stood there for myself, and I stood there for the survivor community, and I stood there for my husband, and I stood there for my left leg. Since that moment I feel like there’s a bit of closure for me. I’m never going to have to see him again.
Many in the survivor community feel like the death penalty offers a sense of justice being done. And that’s what his sentence felt like to me. I hope it also brings closure to those who lost loved ones that day. There are, of course, many in the survivor community who feel that he should spend his life in prison and sit in a cell and think about what he did. I don’t speak for everybody.
I hope that the death penalty in this case sets a precedent, and I hope that it’s a deterrent. I hope it sends a message from Boston and America: We don’t put up with terrorism or terrorists. You’re not going to get a bed or a television or an occasional phone call to your family. When you take lives, yours can be taken as well.
Nobody should ever have to go through what anyone in our Boylston Street family has. If anyone else is thinking of doing something like this, I hope they look long and hard at the sentence this guy got, and decide to change their minds and get the help that they need.
Haslet-Davis is a ballroom dancer, public speaker and philanthropist