BOSTON (CBS) – A Northeastern University professor says executing Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokar Tsarnaev would be a rallying cry for terrorists.

“If this guy gets the death penalty we’re gonna be hearing more than we ever wanted to hear about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev,” Professor Emeritus Edith Flynn of Northeastern University, who has been studying global terrorism for decades.

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She says the execution of terrorists like Tsarnaev is a rallying cry for those who hate us most.

“We have to remember that the purpose of terrorism is to draw attention and get the world focused on their issues, and to any degree that we have a sentence of death with all the appeals following, we are playing into the hands of the terrorists.”

But that stance is disputed by Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby, who, in a column last year, pointed to the enduring cult of public interest in mass murderer Charles Manson as evidence that life in prison – without trips to court for appeals – doesn’t mean a criminal vanishes from the spotlight.

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Flynn counters with the example of the infamous Unabomber, who’s also serving a life term. “Who thinks of Ted Kaczynski? I bet you half the population can’t remember his name.”

Jacoby notes the martyrdom argument was made in opposition to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh’s death sentence, yet acts of terror in his name “never happened.” But Flynn says the right-wing terror threat that spawned McVeigh is still alive: “I expect these guys are still quite capable and potent.”

It’s a complicated and emotional debate. But as asked Prof. Flynn: whether terrorists are put to death or sentenced to life in prison, won’t other fanatics around the world always find someone to rally around?

“They will,” she says. “But I think Tsarnaev, given his youth and that Rolling Stone photograph – he’s quite a handsome lad – is going to draw quite a bit of sympathy, particularly from people who might be on the edge.”

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One last note from our conversation with the professor: she points to Tsarnaev’s infamous message scrawled on the inside of the boat he was hiding inbefore capture as evidence of his willingness to die and become a “martyr,” and suggests that despite his lawyers’ efforts to spare his life, he may still be hoping for the death penalty.

Jon Keller