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Supreme Court Reinstates Death Sentence for Boston Marathon Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

U.S. Attorney's Office in Boston | Reuters
  • The U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty sentence imposed on Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
  • The death sentence had been tossed out earlier by a federal appeals court.
  • "Dzhokhar Tsarnaev committed heinous crimes," Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the majority opinion.

The Supreme Court on Friday reinstated the death penalty sentence imposed on Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, reversing a lower federal appeals court ruling that had voided that punishment.

In its 6-3 ruling, the high court rejected arguments by Tsarnaev's lawyers that his trial judge erred in barring certain questions to prospective jurors, and in blocking evidence of his brother Tamerlan's role in a prior triple murder.

"Dzhokhar Tsarnaev committed heinous crimes," Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the majority opinion.

"The Sixth Amendment nonetheless guaranteed him a fair trial before an impartial jury. He received one. The judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit is reversed," Thomas wrote.

All six of the court's conservatives voted to reinstate the death penalty, while the three liberal justices all dissented.

"Legal rulings don't erase trauma and pain. Our focus today, and always, is on the hundreds of families that were deeply impacted and traumatized by this horrific act of domestic terrorism," the U.S. Attorney for Massachussetts, Rachael Rollins, said in a statement later Friday.

It is unclear when, or even if, Tsarnev will be executed for committing the April 15, 2013, bombings.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland last July imposed a moratorium on federal executions, pending the outcome of a review of Justice Department polices and procedures related to capital punishment.

The federal government had not executed a convict for 17 years until 2020, when the Justice Department under then-President Donald Trump resumed the practice. More than a quarter of the 50 federal convicts executed since 1927 were killed under Trump's administration.

Prosecutors had called the Boston bombings "one of the worst domestic terrorist attacks since the 9/11 atrocities."

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.

Dzhokhar, who was 19 at the time, and his older brother Tamerlan fled the scene, kicking off a four-day manhunt during which Massachusetts Institute of Technology Police Officer Sean Collier was shot dead.

Tamerlan 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 jury in federal district court in Massachusetts convicted Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on 30 counts, and recommended the death penalty for six of them.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit in July 2020 canceled the sentences, finding errors with the trial judge's rulings on the requested questions to prospective jurors about their exposure to media coverage of the attack.

The appeals court also said the judge was wrong to bar, during the sentencing phase, evidence of Tamerlan's alleged role in a triple murder in Waltham, Massachusetts, on the 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Defense lawyers had wanted jurors to hear that evidence to support their claim that Tamerlan took the lead role in the Boston bombing and induced Dzhokhar to participate.

"The Government argues that the Court of Appeals improperly vacated Dzhokhar's capital sentences," Thomas wrote in Friday's opinion. "We agree."

"The District Court did not abuse its broad discretion by declining to ask about the content and extent of each juror's media consumption regarding the bombings," Thomas wrote.

He noted that the court issued a 100-question form to 1,373 prospective jurors, then subjected the 256 remaining people to three weeks of questioning by attorneys for both the prosecution and the defense.

Thomas also wrote that the decision to exclude certain evidence was "reasonable and not an abuse of the District Court's discretion."

Justice Stephen Breyer in his dissent, wrote, "In my view, the Court of Appeals acted lawfully."

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