Mixed feelings about death penalty for Tsarnaev

Citizens of Boston and victims cite the damage alleged Marathon bomber did to the city

He lost his right leg and endured more than 20 operations. Shrapnel remains in his heart and elsewhere in his body, remnants of the Boston Marathon bombings that killed three and injured more than 260.

So when Marc Fucarile learned that the nation’s top law enforcer intends to seek the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect in the bombings, Fucarile thought the decision was “just the right thing to do.’’

“For any terrorist who watches this around the world, they should know that we’ll put them to death,’’ said Fucarile, 35, of Reading, who underwent his most recent operation a few weeks ago and has at least two more scheduled. ‘It’s a powerful statement to let people know that if you do a horrible act like this, this is what will happen to you.’

Victims, first responders, spectators, runners, and others profoundly affected by the attack last April responded with mixed feelings about the decision by US Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty against Tsarnaev. Some who generally oppose the death penalty said they see this as the rare occasion when it should be used. Others worried that the death penalty might be too easy an end for a young man who is also implicated in the death of an MIT police officer three days after the Marathon bombings.

Then there were those like Hilary Hayden-Moryl, 36, a veteran nurse from Ware, who was unsure how to feel. She was volunteering at the main medical tent near the finish line and witnessed the carnage up close: exposed bones piercing singed skin and rivulets of blood.

“At first, I was excited, thinking this was great news,’’ said Hayden-Moryl, who is training to run this year’s Boston Marathon. “But I’m not a violent person. I just don’t know. I’m really not sure how I feel now.”

A fellow volunteer at the medical tent, Nicole Fluet McGerald, who has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder from her experience hearing the bombs detonate and treating the wounded, was less equivocal. She said two wrongs do not make a right.

“Emotionally, as much as I’d like to say, ‘Let him die,’ it won’t solve anything,” said McGerald, 31, a physical therapist from Nashua who plans to return to the medical tent this year.

She thinks it would be a waste of money to seek the federal death penalty, which has been carried out only three times since the government reinstated it in 1988. It has not been used in Massachusetts since 1947.

“The federal government could take all the money they saved and donate it to the victims of the bombing,” she said, referring to the cost associated with death penalty cases, including expensive appeals.

Law enforcement officials who took part in the effort to capture Tsarnaev argued that the death penalty is the proper punishment.

“Given the vicious nature of the crime, the lives lost, and the hundreds injured on that fateful day, today’s decision to seek the death penalty seems appropriate,” said Boston Police Commissioner William Evans, who ran in the Marathon, then helped oversee the response to the bombing at the finish line.

Police Chief Edward P. Deveau of Watertown said he was pleased by the decision, especially given the impact on his city, where Tsarnaev was captured in a boat in a homeowner’s yard hours after a shootout.

“I think it’s a well thought out decision, based on all the facts that have been outlined by the US attorney general,’’ Deveau said. “I support it based on that. I have spoken to my officers here, and they feel the same way.’’

Former State Police trooper Sean Murphy, who retired after leaking photos of Tsarnaev’s capture, called the attorney general’s decision “the most appropriate course of action.’’

“If it doesn’t make sense for this case, what does it make sense for?’’ said Murphy, 48, of Chelmsford, who will be running this year’s Marathon to raise money in honor of Martin Richard, the 8-year-old from Dorchester who died while watching the race with his family.

In the moments after the April 15 attack, Bruce Mendelsohn, 45, a former Army lieutenant from Auburn, tied a rag around the lower left leg of a young Northeastern University student, making a tourniquet that helped save her life.

“I’m not a vindictive person, but the stuff this guy did is beyond excusable,’’ he said. “Does this provide closure? Not really. But I think if we strip away the veneer of our forgiveness, I think people want to see him suffer, because of the suffering he inflicted.”

Steve Fiola of Fitchburg, a first lieutenant in the National Guard, helped pull scaffolding away so rescuers could reach victims, put out a fire burning one man, and administered a tourniquet. While he lacks a strong conviction about the death penalty, he said he supports its use if it brings comfort to some victims.

“This is the most severe punishment that they could seek, and that is indicative of the level of commitment the justice system has in going after this,’’ he said. “That will help everyone in their recovery.”

Before Holder’s decision was announced, Liz Norden of Stoneham, whose two sons each lost a leg in the blasts, said she had told prosecutors looking for input from victims that they should seek the death penalty.

“My life, my kids’ lives have been changed forever,” said Norden, who was speaking for herself and not her sons, J.P. and Paul.

She said she would be disappointed if the government ultimately allows a plea bargain, enabling Tsarnaev to get life without parole.

Norden added, though, that neither of her sons wanted to take part in the discussion and have consistently chosen to be silent on the subject.

“They don’t have time; they don’t even think about it,’’ she said. “They’re focused on their recovery.”