WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court considered one of the mandate’s most high-profile cases on Wednesday, considering whether to reimpose the death penalty for Boston marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev after a federal appeals court ruled it out. canceled.
Although Attorney General Merrick Garland has ordered a moratorium on executions in the federal system, President Joe Biden’s Justice Department nonetheless takes the same position as under the Trump administration, defending Tsarnaev’s death sentence.
Tsarnaev was convicted of joining his older brother, Tamerlan, for planting two pressure cooker homemade bombs near the marathon finish line in 2013, which killed three people and injured hundreds of them. others, many of them seriously. Tamerlan, 26, died days after the attacks following a shootout with police. Dzhokhar, then 19, was later found hiding in a boat parked in a backyard.
In a separate phase of the trial, the jury recommended the death penalty for Tsarnaev.
Tsarnaev has appealed the conviction, and a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit last year ordered a new sentencing hearing. It ruled unanimously that the trial judge failed to sufficiently question would-be jurors on how closely they were following the extensive media coverage of the bombings.
The court also said the judge should have allowed Tsarnaev’s lawyers to discuss a 2011 triple murder in the Boston area that investigators suspected was committed by Tamerlan. The defense wanted to use it to show that the young Tsarnaev was dominated by his violent older brother, and was therefore less responsible for the attacks.
During the trial, Tsarnaev’s lawyers did not deny his role in the marathon bombing. But they said he was easily manipulated by his brother, who they called the brain.
Justice ministry lawyers urged Supreme Court to overturn appeals court ruling and uphold death sentence, calling case “one of the largest terrorism prosecutions in history of our country ”and describing Tsarnaev as“ a radical jihadist determined to kill Americans ”.
Previous Supreme Court rulings do not require asking potential jurors the specific content of reports they have seen or heard, the government said. Instead, the test is whether jurors can put aside their impressions or opinions and base their verdicts on the evidence presented.
And with respect to the 2011 triple murder, Justice Department attorneys said that allowing evidence of the older brother’s alleged involvement in a separate crime, with a different alleged accomplice, in an apparent effort to obtain money, could be confusing and distracting for the jury.
They added that an order to hold a new sentencing hearing would further traumatize the Boston community, saying “victims will once again have to speak out to describe the horrors” Tsarnaev inflicted on them.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, said he supports the government’s efforts to overturn the lower court’s decision.
“I said a long time ago that I thought Tsarnaev should face the death penalty,” he said. “So I would agree with the Biden administration on this one.”
Many survivors of the bombings also support the death penalty for Tsarnaev. Marc Fucarile, who lost his right leg in the attack, said of the death penalty: “She is there, and her actions demand it.
But Bill and Denise Richard, whose 8-year-old son was killed in the attacks, said that despite the horror and brutality of the crime, they had a different point of view. “Continuing this punishment could result in years of appeals and prolong reliving the most painful day of our lives,” they wrote in a letter published in the Boston Globe in 2015.
If the court rules for the Justice Department, Tsarnaev will remain on death row in Colorado supermax prison. If he rules for Tsarnaev, the Biden administration will have to decide whether to try again to seek the death penalty or let his life sentence on non-capital counts stand.
In any case, it will never come out, a point noted by the court of appeal. “Make no mistake: Dzhokhar will spend his remaining days locked in prison, the only remaining question being whether he will die by execution,” wrote Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson.