Tsarnaev and the death penalty

Attorney General Eric Holder approved a motion for prosecutors to seek the death penalty for alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev, triggering an emotional debate inside Massachusetts about the ethics of capital punishment, and setting the stage nationally for the highest-profile federal death-penalty case since the trial — and subsequent execution — of Timothy McVeigh for the 1995 bombing of a federal office building in Oklahoma City.

Many praised Holder, who personally opposes the death penalty, for seeking the death sentence. Others insisted that, despite the terrible crimes involved, the death penalty is never warranted. The rest were simply torn or, in the case of politicians such as Gov. Deval Patrick, Attorney General Martha Coakley, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, trying to have it both ways, supporting Holder’s decision while affirming their opposition to capital punishment.

Boston’s two major dailies showcased the two extremes. An editorial in the Boston Herald said the newspaper was surprised the death penalty recommendation came from an Obama administration “from whom we have come to expect so little of either courage or common sense.” The editorial also said the possibility of a death penalty makes a plea bargain more likely. “No one needs to read more sob stories about this stoner,” the paper said.

A Boston Globe editorial asserted that a life term was the proper punishment to seek. “A death-penalty prosecution instead raises the likelihood that Tsarnaev’s trial will drag on much longer, keeping the city’s wounds raw, and that he’ll eventually get the martyrdom he apparently sought,” the paper said. The Herald’s Margery Eagan took a similar position in her column.

If Tsarnaev is convicted and sentenced to death, he could not be executed in Massachusetts because the state’s courts do not permit capital punishment to be carried out here. Just three people have been executed under the federal death penalty since it was first enacted in 1988.

–BRUCE MOHL

BEACON HILL

House Speaker Robert DeLeo may be the top dog on Beacon Hill right now, but he has a probation problem looming with the trial of former Probation Commissioner John J. O’Brien, CommonWealth reports.

The lobbying fees of former state senator Steven Panagiotakis soar, but overall influence peddling doesn’t appear to be as lucrative as it was two years ago, CommonWealth reports.

Michael Dukakis says he doesn’t want anything named after him — unless it’s the North-South Rail Link.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Brockton mayor William Carpenter was expected today to announce a reorganization of the city’s police department including replacing the chief’s position with a civilian commissioner but he first has to appear in court this morning to fight a move by the supervisors union to block his appointment.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Harvey Silverglate questions the politics behind the Justice Department’s Bridgegate inquiry.

ELECTIONS

The Globe says Martha Coakley has offered very different views of the problems in the Department of Families and Children depending on whether she’s talking as the state attorney general or as a candidate for governor.

State Sen. Barry Finegold announces his run for state treasurer, the Sun reports.

If you’re a candidate hoping to speak at the state Republican convention this year, it’ll cost you.

Casino opponents have assembled some serious legal firepower in their effort to secure a spot on the November ballot for a question that would repeal the casino law. Gambling interests are taking note.

Scot Lehigh is impressed with Democratic attorney general candidate Maura Healey. He also says she and fellow Democratic hopeful Hank Naughton pass the Lehigh good-government transparency test, while presumed Democratic frontrunner Warren Tolman offers an answer that is a mushy muddle.

Sandra Fluke , victor in the War on Women, considers running for Henry Waxman’s House seat.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Massachusetts economy grew at an annualized rate of 5.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013, outpacing the nation’s rate of growth, WBUR reports.

Raytheon receives a $98 million contract dealing with the Patriot missile system, with work spread among facilities in Andover, Billerica, Burlington, Tewksbury, and Pelham, New Hampshire, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

General Electric prepares to put a 60-acre site, home to a former gear plant, up for sale in Lynn, the Item reports.

Slate’s Matt Yglesias pens a love letter to Jeff Bezos and Amazon.

HEALTH CARE

The Globe profiles a family pinning hopes for its seriously ill 6-year-old son on the FDA’s “compassionate use” exemption allowing unproven drugs to be given in dire situations.

Accountable Care Organizations show cost-savings promise. The early success of ACOs is touched on in “Healing health care,” the feature story in the new issue of CommonWealth on two Boston-based primary care innovators.

TRANSPORTATION

State senators from the New Bedford and Fall River area say they will “fight like hell” to keep the $2.2 billion earmarked for South Coast Rail in the transportation bond bill when their chamber takes up the measure passed by the House.

Holyoke unveils a new program to encourage students to stay in school and to help dropouts get diplomas.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The US Senate passed a bill to delay the massive flood insurance premium increases for four years and state Sen. Robert Hedlund of Weymouth plans to send a letter from the “Republican perspective” to House Speaker John Boehner outlining why the bill should pass.

Officials from 17 foundations with a combined $2 billion in assets, including the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation and the Schmidt Family Foundation created by Google’s Eric Schmidt, have pledged to divest their fossil fuel stock and invest at least 5 percent of their assets in clean energy companies.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

In an effort to reduce the nation’s prison population, Justice Department officials ask lawyers around the country to help drug prisoners prepare petitions for clemency, the Washington Post reports.

Weymouth police arrested a Rockland man who they say used the state health plan to fill two phony prescriptions for more than 200 oxycodone pills with a street value of nearly $7,000.

Three Chelmsford residents are arrested for selling heroin, one of them dealing from the aisles of a Walmart, the Sun reports.

MEDIA

John Henry names himself publisher of the Boston Globe because that’s what you can do when you own the paper. Boston advertising honcho Mike Sheehan will be the paper’s chief executive. The Globe profiled Sheehan in May last year; many of the firms he represented as Hill Holliday’s chief are covered by the Globe on a regular basis.

Jenny Dell , the sideline reporter for NESN during Red Sox games, is finally reassigned after publicly revealing that she and third baseman Will Middlebrooks are dating.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

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