Some members of the Supreme Court appeared skeptical of arguments presented on Wednesday by a justice ministry official aimed at persuading the nine judges to reinstate the death penalty against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the man convicted of the attack. of the Boston Marathon over eight years ago.
Two questions arise in the High Court: one concerning whether the jurors in Tsarnaev’s trial were properly vetted, and the other concerning the evidence concerning his older brother that could have affected the severity of his sentence.
The case also challenges President Joe Biden’s claim at the end of 2020 that he opposes the death penalty and would work to end it during his tenure.
Under Biden, the Justice Department imposed a moratorium on all executions, putting Deputy Attorney General Eric Feigin in the position of arguing that Tsarnaev should be sentenced to death as the Biden administration does not appear to intend to ‘run.
When Judge Amy Coney Barrett bluntly asked Feigin what “the point” of the government’s argument was, Feigin said he was asking the court to uphold the jurors’ original decision.
The arguments were presented two days after this year’s Boston Marathon, which had been delayed due to the pandemic.
A unanimous jury initially sentenced Tsarnaev to death in May 2015 – a sentence the Justice Department requested under then-President Barack Obama – before an appeals court reduced the sentence to life without parole . Although the state of Massachusetts banned the death penalty decades ago, federal charges can still result in a death sentence.
The April 15, 2013 bombing is considered one of the worst acts of terrorism in the United States, which suicide bombers are said to have committed to punish Americans for American wars in Muslim countries. Three people at the Boston Marathon were killed when a pair of homemade bombs exploded near the finish line. More than 260 others have been injured, many of whom have lost limbs or have other life-changing scars.
Tsarnaev, then 19, had helped plan the attack with his older brother, Tamerlan, 26, who died as the two tried to escape police.
The brothers took a fourth life as an MIT cop – on the failed getaway.
Tsarnaev’s lawyers argued in court that even though he was part of the plot, his older brother was the real architect, convincing his impressionable younger brother to help with a heinous attack he would not have pursued otherwise. . They failed to convince a jury of seven women and five men.
However, the 1st US Court of Appeals reduced Tsarnaev’s sentence to life behind bars in July 2020. The appeals court ruled that the judge who oversaw the 2015 trial had failed correctly examined potential jurors on what they may have already read or heard about the case. , which had attracted the attention of the global media.
The appeals court also ruled that the district court should not have excluded evidence that Tamerlan was involved in a gruesome triple homicide in 2011 from the sentencing phase of the trial, ruling that such evidence was ” highly convincing of Tamerlane’s ability to influence Dzhokhar ”.
“[E]Such evidence could have reasonably persuaded at least one juror that Dzhokhar did what he did because he feared what his brother might do to him if he refused, ”the appeals court said.
A few Supreme Court justices, especially Justice Elena Kagan, also appeared to doubt the government’s argument that the evidence of the murder made no difference to jurors. Some of the court’s conservatives, including Judge Brett Kavanaugh, appeared to suggest that the evidence was properly ignored at the trial.
Under the Trump administration, the Justice Department quickly sought to appeal the appeal court’s decision, with then Attorney General Bill Barr saying his department would do “whatever is necessary” to obtain a death sentence for Tsarnaev.
In June, Biden’s Justice Department moved forward, filing a 48-page brief in June claiming Tsarnaev’s sentence had been wrongly overturned.