Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: Supreme Court reinstates death sentence for Boston Marathon bomber

Three people were killed and 260 injured, many seriously, in the 2013 bombing

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Friday 04 March 2022 19:24

Related video: Boston Marathon explosions

The Supreme Court has reinstated the death sentence for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

In a 6-3 ruling on Friday, the court found that a federal appeals court was wrong to vacate the death sentence based on issues of jury selection and evidence.

The vote was divided along lines of ideology, with outgoing Justice Stephen Breyer, Justice Elena Kagan, and, in part, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, dissenting with the ruling.

Three people were killed and 260 were injured, many seriously, in the 2013 bombing. Seventeen of those who were injured lost limbs. A police officer was killed during the ensuing manhunt.

“Dzhokhar Tsarnaev committed heinous crimes. The Sixth Amendment nonetheless guaranteed him a fair trial before an impartial jury. He received one,” conservative Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority.

The court was looking at a ruling by a panel of three judges in the US Court of Appeals for the first Circuit. The panel agreed with Tsarnaev’s attorneys back in July that potential jurors were not properly questioned for bias in the heavily publicised 2015 trial.

The panel overturned Tsarnaev’s death sentence, saying that some evidence had also been improperly withheld. The evidence could have shown that Tsarnaev’s older brother, Tamerlan, was more responsible for the attack.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev died in a confrontation with law enforcement as police closed in on the brothers in the days following the bombing in April 2013.

The panel of judges upheld Tsarnaev’s conviction on 27 charges; his guilt was never questioned. The issue at hand was whether he was to face the death penalty or life in prison.

The three people who died in the bombing were Chinese graduate student Lingzi Lu, restaurant manager Krystle Campbell, and 8-year-old Martin Richard.

The case created an issue for the Department of Justice. The agency had asked the Supreme Court to reverse the federal appeals court’s decision despite President Joe Biden, who opposes the death penalty, having stopped federal executions.

Judge Rogeriee Thompson wrote for the panel that while Tsarnaev’s guilt wasn’t in question, “a core promise of our criminal justice system is that even the very worst among us deserves to be fairly tried and lawfully punished”.

“Just to be crystal clear, Dzhokhar will remain confined to prison for the rest of his life, with the only question remaining being whether the government will end his life by executing him,” she added.

She wrote that the judge in Tsarnaev’s trial shouldn’t have excluded evidence that Tamerlan had been a part of a 2011 triple murder. This could have boosted arguments that he scared and pushed his brother into taking part in the bombing.

A friend of Tamerlan said in a 2013 interview with the FBI that he had taken part in a robbery of three drug dealers alongside Tamerlan in Waltham, Massachusetts in 2011. He said Tamerlan was the one who cut their throats.

The friend, Ibragim Todashev, was shot and killed by agents after suddenly attacking them after having started to write down his confession.

“No one alleges that Dzhokhar participated in the Waltham murders, and, as the District Court reasonably concluded, the evidence available sheds little light on what role (if any) Tamerlan actually played,” Justice Thomas wrote. “To make his point at sentencing, then, Dzhokhar would first have to show, without any surviving witnesses, what role Tamerlan actually played. Then, he would have to establish that he learned of the Waltham crimes before planning the bombings.”

“Finally, he would have to explain how his knowledge of Tamerlan’s role in a nearly two-year-old violent robbery affected his own role in the bombings,” he added. “Whatever other courts might think about an inquiry into a defendant’s own prior bad acts, this district court reasonably thought that the Waltham murder inquiry risked confusing the jury in these proceedings. We see no basis to disturb that conclusion.”

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