US Supreme Court reinstates Boston Marathon suicide bomber’s death sentence

WASHINGTON, March 4 (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday reinstated the death sentence of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for his role in the 2013 bombing that killed three people and injured more than 260 others, ruling in favor of the federal government.

In a 6-3 decision, judges sided with the Justice Department’s challenge to a 2020 federal appeals court decision that upheld Tsarnaev’s conviction but overturned his death sentence .

The Supreme Court blamed the Boston-based 1st United States Circuit Court of Appeals for its findings both that Tsarnaev’s right to a fair trial under the Sixth Amendment of the US Constitution had been violated and that the trial judge had wrongly excluded certain evidence relating to a separate crime.

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“Dzhokhar Tsarnaev committed heinous crimes. The Sixth Amendment nevertheless guaranteed him a fair trial by an impartial jury. He got one,” conservative judge Clarence Thomas wrote for the court.

The court’s six conservative justices had a majority, with its three liberals dissenting.

President Joe Biden, as a candidate, has promised to work to pass legislation in Congress to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level and to urge states to do the same, approving life sentences instead. without probation or parole. But his administration chose last year to pursue a call originally made by the Justice Department under his predecessor Donald Trump to defend Tsarnaev’s death sentence.

In a dissenting opinion, liberal Judge Stephen Breyer agreed with 1st Circuit that evidence for the separate crime, a 2011 triple murder in Waltham, Massachusetts linked to Tsarnaev’s older brother Tamerlane, was wrongly excluded.

Lawyers for Tsarnaev, who is now 28 and 19 at the time of the attack, argued that Tsarnaev played a secondary role in the marathon bombing to his brother, whom they called “a figure of ‘authority’ with ‘violent Islamic extremist beliefs’. As such, evidence of another crime Tamerlan allegedly committed would be relevant, they argued.

“This evidence may have led some jurors to conclude that Tamerlane’s influence was so pervasive that Dzhokhar did not deserve to die for any of the actions he took in connection with the bombings, even those taken in outside of Tamerlane’s presence,” Breyer wrote.

“And it would have taken just one juror to change their mind to produce a sentence other than death, even if it was severe,” added Breyer, who has previously questioned the constitutionality of the death penalty.

The main source of evidence for the other murders, a man named Ibragim Todashev, was killed by an FBI agent in 2013 when he attacked officers during an interview.

The Supreme Court also found that U.S. District Judge George O’Toole, who presided over the trial, did not violate Tsarnaev’s right to a trial by an impartial jury by failing to properly screen jurors for potential bias. following ubiquitous media coverage of the bombings. .


The Tsarnaev brothers detonated two homemade pressure cooker bombs at the marathon finish line on April 15, 2013 and days later killed a policeman. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died after the shootout with the police.

Jurors convicted Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in 2015 on all 30 charges he faced and determined he deserved execution for a bomb he planted that killed 8-year-old Martin Richard and l Chinese exchange student Lingzi Lu, 23 years old. Restaurant manager Krystle Campbell, 29, was killed by the second bomb.

Marc Fucarile, who lost his right leg in the second blast, said the Supreme Court “did the right thing” and the three dissenting justices “should be ashamed”. But Fucarile said he was unconvinced the death sentence would eventually be carried out, especially under the Biden administration.

“He got what he deserves,” said Fucarile, 43. “I think we have to send a message, you can’t just kill innocent people and detonate bombs in crowds of people.”

No federal inmate was executed for 17 years before Trump oversaw 13 executions in the final six months of his term. Biden Attorney General Merrick Garland last July imposed a moratorium on federal executions while the Justice Department reviews the death penalty.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in March 2021 that Biden continued to have “serious concerns about whether capital punishment, as currently applied, is consistent with the values ​​that are fundamental to our sense of justice and fairness”.

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Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Will Dunham

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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