We wrote this almost 4 years ago. Never published it. This seemed to be an appropriate moment:
I haven’t weighed in on this for a number of reasons; but like a lot of high profile cases it has a larger significance because so many people are aware of it and have opinions.
I’m not familiar with the evidence and don’t really want to go down that road, but I’ve formed some opinions based on a few facts that seem to be beyond dispute.
The older brother, Tamerlan, was a very strong personality. He was also quite likely either manic/schizophrenic or brain damaged from years of blows to the head. This is based on some recountings of his personal history which have included allusions to a personality change around the age mania or schizophrenia first appear (late teens to early 20’s) and extensive experience with boxing and/or martial arts.
When people with strong personalities become mentally ill their pathologies are extremely difficult to resist. You can argue the most obvious points, but you’ll be brow beaten out of them if only because a normal person gets fatigued but a manic person doesn’t. Or at least not the same way. It’s almost like their mental illness is contagious, and to stay normal you have to put distance between yourself and them. A much younger brother would be especially vulnerable, though, because they often grow up idolizing their older brothers, and without some third party pulling them back from the precipice they are apt to fall into the abyss, where their brother lives.
I assume this is going to be the narrative the defense advances in the penalty phase of the trial. And it’s a good narrative, because it’s probably the truth.
And it makes – or should make – the government’s terrorism narrative look like the product of a febrile hysteria.
In other words, this was not any kind of international terrorism event at all; this was a far more domestic kind of story about a mentally ill and/or brain damaged young man who turned violent and drew his malleable, laid back baby brother into the vortex of madness. If it hadn’t been Muslim this or that there would have been some other excuse – some other grandiose, conspiratorial bugaboo upon which Tamerlan’s mind had fixated and would eventually (and ultimately inexplicably) move him to some crazed, violent act.
And this is another case where the death penalty shouldn’t even be on the table. Not only is the narrative I just described likely far closer to the truth than the government’s; as far as I know this kid had no prior criminal history. For me at least, it is hard to envision any scenario where someone should be put to death on his first criminal conviction.