Chafee ‘disappointed’ Tsarnaev sentenced to death

Former governor and likely presidential candidate fears it could inflame ISIS

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Likely Democratic presidential candidate Lincoln Chafee said Friday he’s “disappointed” that a jury has sentenced convicted Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death, saying it could worsen American relations with the Muslim world.

“I was disappointed,” Chafee told WPRI.com in a one-on-one interview Friday afternoon. “Even some family members of victims had advocated to spare Tsarnaev, and I thought that was powerful testimony.”

Chafee described the Marathon bombing as “a horrendous crime” and said he has sympathy for the victims and their families, but reiterated that he doesn’t support putting anyone to death, particularly in this case.

“Sometimes you have to use your brain over your bicep, and I think this is one of these cases,” he said. “A young Muslim criminal – considering our relations around the world, right now it might have been smarter – yes, we’re angry and we want to use our biceps – but it might have been smarter to give him life without parole.”

“The arguments for the death penalty are that it’s a deterrent,” he said. “In this case, considering all the volatile relations we have with the Muslim world, and some of the brutality that ensues on innocent people by ISIS and the like, I just have concerns that this is going to be some kind of trigger. I hope not.”

  • Tune In: Chafee speaks out about Tsarnaev tonight on Eyewitness News

Chafee is a vocal opponent of the death penalty. During his single term as governor he made headlines by waging a long and unsuccessful fight against federal prosecutors who were seeking the death penalty againstconvicted murderer Jason Pleau. Pleau is now serving a life sentence.

“It’s a big question that has been with human civilization for a long time,” Chafee said Friday. “Is it a deterrent or isn’t it? Most civilized countries have banned capital punishment; we haven’t.” As president Chafee said he would support banning the death penalty at the federal level; the practice is already barred at the state level in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

Chafee announced last month he is seriously considering whether to challenge Hillary Clinton and other candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. The former Republican and independent joined the party two years ago, during his single term as Rhode Island governor.

Chafee wasn’t alone among Democratic presidential hopefuls in speaking out against the Tsarnaev verdict on Friday. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is also expected to make the race, released a statementsoon after the verdict expressing his own opposition to the death penalty.

Chafee has spent recent weeks visiting the early-voting states of New Hampshire and South Carolina, and said he plans to make a formal announcement about whether he’s running before mid-June – but said he is leaning “more definitely toward running.”

Chafee also dismissed a survey of Democratic primary voters released this week by Public Policy Polling that showed Hillary Clinton with 63% support and Chafee with just 5%. He said in the past candidates such as Howard Dean and Paul Tsongas came from nowhere to make a serious run at the party nomination.

“It’s a marathon,” he said. “I’m just getting started in the race. But it’s a long, long race, and we know these things – it sometimes takes months to get some momentum, and that’s the way I always anticipated.”

“I look forward to the debates,” he added.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He hosts Executive Suite and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

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