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Supreme Court may reinstate death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev


J-P Mauro - published on 10/17/21

The judges seemed likely to support the government's bid for execution, but the final decision will come in 2022.

The Supreme Court has revisited the case of the Boston Marathon bomber as the U.S. government seeks to reinstate the death penalty. Oral arguments were heard October 13, during which the majority of the court seemed inclined to allow the death penalty verdict to proceed. The final decision, however, is not due until summer of 2022. 

According to SCOTUSblog, a jury sentenced Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of a pair of brothers responsible for the bombing, to death in the initial 2015 trial. This sentence was later thrown out by a federal appeals court last year. The appeals court reasoned that the jury had been tainted by overwhelming media coverage of the bombing.

The appeals court also noted that Tsarnaev’s brother, Tamerlan, who died during the events of the bombing, was involved in a separate, unsolved triple murder. The defense, which argues that Tamerlan was the mastermind of the bombing, tried to present this as evidence in the initial trial, but it was deemed inadmissible. 

Several judges expressed skepticism that the exclusion of such evidence was wrong. They suggested that the inclusion of the triple murder would have muddied the waters. Justice Samuel Alito noted that introducing such evidence would have created a “trial within a trial.” The instance is further complicated by the fact that Tamerlan is deceased and cannot stand trial.

Moratorium on federal executions

During the hearing, Justice Amy Coney Barrett asked Eric Feigin, who represents the United States, what the government’s “endgame” was for the proceedings. She noted that in July a moratorium was placed over all federal executions. 

Justice Barrett mused that reinstatement of the initial death sentence would relegate the condemned “to living under threat of a death sentence that the government doesn’t plan to carry out.” Conversely, if the death sentence were to remain off the table, then Tsarnaev would continue to serve multiple life sentences in prison.

Families of victims 

Catholic News Service reports that families of the victims of the bombing are divided about Tsarnaev’s death sentence. Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network, noted earlier this year that executing Tsarnaev “would bring little healing to those he harmed and would serve only as state-sponsored vengeance.”

CNS also spoke with Sister Helen Prejean, a Sister of St. Joseph of Medaille and a longtime activist against the death penalty. Sr. Prejean has had several conversations with Tsarnaev in which, she says, he has expressed sincere regret over his actions. She was one of the last people to take the stand during the penalty phase, where she told the jury: 

“He said emphatically, ‘No one deserves to suffer like they did.’” 

Read more at Catholic News Service

TerrorismUnited States
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