Justices May Reinstate Death Sentence for Boston Marathon Bomber

March 22, 2021 by Dan McCue
This photo released April 19, 2013, by the Federal Bureau of Investigation shows Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, convicted for carrying out the April 15, 2013, Boston Marathon bombing attack that killed three people and injured more than 260. The Supreme Court will consider reinstating the death sentence for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, presenting President Joe Biden with an early test of his opposition to capital punishment. The justices agreed Monday to hear an appeal filed by the Trump administration, which carried out executions of 13 federal inmates in its final six months in office. The case won’t be heard until the fall, and it’s unclear how the new administration will approach Tsarnaev’s case. (FBI via AP, File)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider reinstating the death sentence for Boston marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. 

As is their custom, the justices did not explain their rationale for taking up the appeal filed by the Trump administration, but the decision presents President Joe Biden with an early test of his opposition to capital punishment.

Further adding to the intrigue around how the new administration will approach the case is the fact the initial prosecution and decision to seek a death sentence was made by the Obama-era Justice Department during Biden’s tenure as vice president.

During his presidential campaign, candidate Biden often pointed to the more than 160 Americans who’ve been exonerated from death sentences since 1973 as reason to pass legislation eliminating the federal death penalty and “incentivize states to follow.” 

In February a coalition of leading civil and human rights groups called on Biden to immediately commute the sentences of all 49 federal death row inmates and reinstate a moratorium on executions carried out by the U.S. government.

Led by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and joined by 82 major organisations including the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International, the coalition wrote to the president, urging him to put an end to the federal death penalty.

Last July, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston threw out Tsarnaev’s sentence because saying the judge at his trial did not do enough to ensure the jury would not be biased against him.

In the ruling, that trial court was ordered to impanel a new jury and hold a sentencing retrial for the death penalty convictions.

The Justice Department had moved quickly to appeal, asking the justices to hear and decide the case by the end of the court’s current term, in early summer.

Tsarnaev’s lawyers acknowledged at the beginning of his trial that he and his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, set off the two bombs at the marathon finish line in 2013. But they argued that Dzhokar Tsarnaev is less culpable than his brother, who they said was the mastermind behind the attack.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, died following a gunfight with police and being run over by his brother as he fled. Police captured a bloodied and wounded Dzhokhar Tsarnaev hours later in the Boston suburb of Watertown, where he was hiding in a boat parked in a backyard.

Tsarnaev, now 27, was convicted of all 30 charges against him, including conspiracy and use of a weapon of mass destruction and the killing of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer during the Tsarnaev brothers’ getaway attempt. 

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