Supreme Court to consider death sentence for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is pictured in this handout photo presented as evidence by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston, Massachusetts on March 23, 2015.

U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston | Reuters

The Supreme is set Wednesday to hear arguments on whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was convicted of carrying out the deadly 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, should have his death sentence reinstated.

The Biden administration will ask the justices to reverse an appeals court’s “erroneous” decision to vacate the death penalty for Tsarnaev, 28, arguing that the U.S. will have to conduct a fraught new penalty trial if the lower court’s judgment is allowed to stand.

Lawyers for Tsarnaev have argued that even if the high court vacated the appellate ruling and sent the case back for further review, issues with the jury and the evidence presented during Tsarnaev’s trial would again lead to the death sentences being vacated.

The federal government is pushing for the death penalty for Tsarnaev even as President Joe Biden’s Justice Department takes action to halt federal executions. Former President Donald Trump’s administration, which asked the Supreme Court to review the appeals court’s ruling on Tsarnaev, carried out 13 such executions during Trump’s final months in office.

The U.S. in its petition to the Supreme Court described the April 15, 2013, Boston bombings as “one of the worst domestic terrorist attacks since the 9/11 atrocities.”

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Three people, including an 8-year-old child, were killed and hundreds were wounded when two pressure-cooker bombs filled with metal shrapnel detonated near the crowded marathon finish line. Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, both described as jihadists, fled the scene, kicking off a four-day manhunt during which Massachusetts Institute of Technology Police Officer Sean Collier was also shot dead.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev died in a gunfight with police in Watertown, Massachusetts. An injured Dhzokhar, who ran over his brother as he drove away in a stolen Mercedes, was found hours later hiding in a boat parked in a nearby backyard.

A federal jury in Massachusetts convicted Tsarnaev, who was 19 at the time of the attack, on 30 counts and recommended the death penalty for six of them, including using weapons of mass destruction that killed people.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in July 2020 affirmed most of Tsarnaev’s convictions, but erased his capital sentences.

It found that the lower court wrongly denied requests from Tsarnaev’s attorneys to have prospective jurors asked about their media exposure to the facts of the case during the jury-selection process.

The appeals court also ruled that the district court erred by excluding evidence related to a triple murder in Waltham, Massachusetts, on the 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev had been implicated in those attacks by his friend, Ibragim Todashev, who claimed to authorities that he had been recruited him to rob three men, who were bound with duct tape before Tamerlan slit their throats.

Todashev was shot dead after he allegedly attacked investigators after agreeing to write out a confession. No charges have been brought in the Waltham killings.

The district court was mistaken to omit that evidence from Dhzokhar’s trial, his lawyers said, “because it showed Tamerlan’s planning of extreme violence and his ability to influence others to join him in those acts.”

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