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DOJ urges Supreme Court to reinstate death penalty for Boston bomber terrorist

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Suspect 2 in the Boston Marathon bombing investigation. (FBI/Released)
June 15, 2021

The Department of Justice (DOJ) urged the Supreme Court Monday to overturn a court of appeals ruling that removed the death penalty as a sentencing option for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

According to the brief filed Monday, the DOJ argued the lower court’s decision to vacate the death penalty was an error that was made on the basis that the district court failed to ask each prospective juror for “a specific accounting of the pretrial media coverage that he or she had read, heard, or seen about the respondent’s case,” as well as the district court’s exclusion of evidence that the respondent’s older brother was allegedly involved in previous crimes.

The Justice Department asserted that jury selection was comprehensive and included questions about exposure to media relating to the bombing, noting that they were not required to ask each person specific details about what they had seen.

The department also addressed the issue of excluding evidence relating to Tsarnaev’s older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was accused of being involved in a triple-murder in Massachusetts. The defense argued that Tsarnaev was influenced by his older brother and feared for his life due to his brother’s alleged previous crimes. The court determined that including the information on the murders would muddy the waters of the trial, confusing the jury without providing any value.

“The court of appeals’ alternative rationale for vacating respondent’s capital sentences—that the district court abused its discretion by excluding evidence pertaining to the unsolved Waltham deaths—was likewise an unwarranted usurpation of the district judge’s sound discretion,” the DOJ’s brief stated.

“The court of appeals improperly vacated the capital sentences recommended by the jury in one of the most important terrorism prosecutions in our nation’s history,” the brief read. “This court should reverse the decision below and put this case back on track toward a just conclusion.”

While President Joe Biden has said he opposes federal executions, the department’s effort to have the death penalty reinstated in Tsarnaev’s case began under former President Donald Trump. White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates told Fox News that Biden’s opinion on capital punishment remains the same, but the DOJ “has independence regarding such decisions.”

Bates added that the president “has made clear that he has deep concerns about whether capital punishment is consistent with the values that are fundamental to our sense of justice and fairness.

“The President believes the Department should return to its prior practice, and not carry out executions,” he said, noting that the DOJ had no carried about any executions from 2003 to 2020.