Catholics may be excused from serving on the jury hearing the case of the alleged Boston Marathon bomber because the crime potentially carries the death penalty. Although Massachusetts does not impose the death penalty, this case is being tried under federal death penalty charges.
Catholic teaching does not allow the death penalty if other forms of punishment are available. The Catholic Church only allows the death penalty in the rare instances when "non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor." For this case, the government has other ways, such as a life sentence with no possibility for parole, to keep the public safe.
Rev. James Bretzke, professor of moral theology at Boston College, said he thinks it is frustrating if Catholics were automatically eliminated from the jury pool when church doctrine stresses mercy and justice.
“It is both ironic and unfortunate that Catholics who understand and embrace this teaching will be systematically excluded from the trial,” Bretzke said.
Bretzke believes the court should not discriminate against all Catholics because the teaching is not considered infallible and each Catholic could potentially make a decision in favor of the death penalty.
Police arrested Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 21, for allegedly helping orchestrate the bombings at the finish line of 2013 Boston Marathon. The twin bombs killed three people and injured more than 260 participants and spectators.
Tsarnaev’s defense attorney said that of the 1,373 potential jurors screened, 68 percent believe Tsarnaev is guilty.
Of those screened, 69 percent said they either have a connection or allegiance to the people, places or events over the defendant.
Michele Dillon, a sociologist at University of New Hampshire and co-author of the book American Catholics in Transition, said she thinks religious leanings give a more holistic representation of a jury made up of peers.
“And if one’s peers are informed by this sort of religious ethos, then that surely deserves some kind of recognition,” Dillon said.
U.S. District Judge George O’Toole pushed the trial date to an unknown date until the court appoints a full jury.