Supreme Court reinstates death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
In 6-3 decision, court overturns Appeals Court ruling
THE SUPREME COURT reinstated the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, in a split 6-3 decision.
The decision was written by Justice Clarence Thomas. The three liberal justices on the court – Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor – dissented.
In 2013, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev detonated homemade pressure cooker bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and wounding hundreds. They went on to murder an MIT police officer and lead the police on a chase in which Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed. A US District Court jury in Boston convicted Dzhokhar Tsarnaev of the bombing and sentenced him to death.
Tsarnaev’s attorneys appealed the death sentence, and US Appeals Court overturned it. The Appeals Court found that the judge during jury selection did not adequately ask about the type of media exposure each juror had to the case, and the court should not have excluded evidence about Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s possible involvement in an earlier unsolved triple homicide in Waltham. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s attorneys wanted to use information about the murder to argue that Tamerlan was the ringleader who influenced his younger brother.
The Supreme Court also said the District Court was right in excluding evidence related to Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s possible ties to the Waltham murders, because with limited available evidence, jurors would not be able to adequately assess his role in those murders. “The bare inclusion of the Waltham-murders evidence risked producing a confusing mini-trial where the only witnesses who knew the truth were dead,” Thomas wrote.Breyer, in a dissenting opinion, argued that the District Court should have allowed a jury to hear evidence about the Waltham murders. A major part of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s defense in the sentencing phase of his trial was that he had been influenced by his more radical and domineering older brother. “Evidence that Tamerlan participated in (and potentially orchestrated) one set of ideologically motivated murders in 2011 supports the claim that Tamerlan was the violent, radicalizing force behind the ideologically motivated bombings a year and a half later,” Breyer wrote.
Although President Biden has said he supports abolishing the death penalty, his Justice Department had asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the death sentence in Tsarnaev’s case.