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Canadians have mixed feelings about death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber

04/08/2015 03:57 EDT | Updated 06/08/2015 05:59 EDT
Some of the Canadians who witnessed the deadly Boston Marathon bombings two years ago expressed universal relief Wednesday that the surviving attacker had been convicted, but they were divided about his ultimate fate.

All described the guilty verdict handed down against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as either a welcome or expected development.

But as lawyers prepare to argue whether Tsarnaev should face the death penalty or spend the rest of his life behind bars, some Canadians pulled no punches in expressing their hopes for his future.

"Kill him," said Julie Whelen, of Winnipeg, who was a block away from the finish line when the pressure-cooker bombs went off. "Being a veterinarian, I would volunteer to go down there and do it for them."

Michael Murphy, who went to Boston from his home in Moncton, N.B. to watch his son participate in the race, agreed that a man whose actions caused three deaths and hundreds of injuries deserved the ultimate punishment.

He said the images of carnage he witnessed that day turned him from a death penalty opponent to someone who believes it's sometimes the only option.

"When you stand on a street corner and you see a leg on fire and you see a little boy 25 feet away cut in half, holding his knee with his leg missing, and then you see all those 250 other people who were so horrifically injured, and you've got a child who's running in that marathon, you're not quite so benevolent and soft-hearted," Murphy said.

Others took a different view, arguing that sentencing the 21-year-old college student to death would only compound the tragedy.

"I don't agree with the death penalty," said marathon participant Gerry Nagy, of Regina. "I know he's caused a lot of pain and grief for a lot of people, but I don't believe that that's something that should be handed down."

Fellow runner Linda Hensman, of St. John's, N.L., agreed.

"No one won in this situation," she said. "We have three families who've been terribly affected with the loss of loved ones, we've had other people's lives completely changed because of the damage caused by the terrible set of events, and now we have a young man who's no doubt going to spend the rest of his life incarcerated and to what end, nothing really has been achieved."

Tsarnaev's fate will now be decided by the same jury that convicted him on multiple charges, including conspiracy and use of a weapon of mass destruction.

His conviction was practically a foregone conclusion, given his lawyer's startling admission during opening statements that Tsarnaev carried out the attack with his now-dead older brother, Tamerlan.

In a bid to save Tsarnaev from a death sentence, defence attorney Judy Clarke has argued that the younger brother, then 19, fell under the influence of his radicalized sibling. Tamerlan, 26, died when he was shot by police and run over by his brother during a chaotic getaway attempt days after the bombing.

"If not for Tamerlan, it would not have happened," Clarke told the jury during closing arguments.

Prosecutors, however, portrayed the brothers — ethnic Chechens who moved to the U.S. from Russia more than a decade ago — as full partners in a plan to punish the U.S. for its wars in Muslim countries. Jihadist writings, lectures and videos were found on both their computers, though the defence argued that Tamerlan downloaded the material and sent it to his brother.

At least 2,000 Canadians were registered to run the 2013 Boston Marathon, but none were included among the fatalities.

— With files from Peter Cameron in Toronto and The Associated Press.

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