Supreme Court Reexamining Death Penalty in Boston Bomber Case

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The Supreme Court could be moving to reinstate the death penalty against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon Bomber. In 2015, Tsarnaev was convicted on 30 charges relating to his role in a 2013 bombing attack that killed four people and injured over 200 others. The jury in the case sentenced Tsarnaev to death for six of the charges.

In 2020, an appellate court in Boston overturned this sentence, arguing that the jury wasn’t given the full facts of the case. Now, the Supreme Court’s six conservative justices are leaning towards reinstating Tsarnaev’s death sentence.

The court’s liberal justices, meanwhile, maintain that the appellate court ruling was made with valid judicial reasoning. That decision was reached due to evidence that Tsarnaev’s brother, Tamerlan, was the person mainly responsible for planning the attack.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev

Tamerlan’s role in a triple murder that occurred in 2011 was not made known to the jury in Dzhokhar’s original trial. In light of this, the appellate court in Boston ruled in 2020 that Dzhokhar’s death sentence should be overturned. The judge in his case noted that his brother’s role in a previous murder case should have been made known to the jury in the original trial, as it would have added context to the 2013 crime.

Tamerlan was killed in the manhunt that followed the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing. After his death, police were able to connect Tamerlan to the 2011 murders based on an interview with one of his accomplices. That interview took a turn for the worse, however, as the accomplice became violent and attacked law enforcement. He was killed in the ensuing struggle.

Stay of Execution?

Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan has expressed surprise that the jury in Dzhokhar’s initial trial was not made aware of Tamerlan’s role in the 2011 crime. “The court keeps out evidence that the older brother committed three murders?” Justice Kagan asked Deputy Solicitor General Eric Feigin.

On the other side of the argument, Justice Brett Kavanaugh has questioned the accuracy of the accomplice’s story. Kavanaugh argues that the accomplice “had all the motive in the world to point the finger at the dead guy.”

Notably, the Biden administration has continued to push for Tsarnaev’s execution even though it has ordered a halt to the other federal executions that were ordered by the previous administration. In 2020, the Trump administration became the first to authorize federal executions since 2003. The Supreme Court’s decision in the case will likely come by the summer of 2022.