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Marathon Bomber Inching Toward Escaping Death Sentence

December 12, 2019

Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev could escape the death penalty if a federal appeals overturns the sentence because of pre-trial social media postings of jurors suggesting they may have been biased.

An Obama appointee on the First Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston had what the Associated Press called a “lengthy exchange” with prosecutors on Thursday, December 12 during which he sounded skeptical about the inclusion of two jurors in the trial.

“You’ve got lots of qualifiable jurors in Boston. You just need to make sure the government doesn’t cause the court to pick the wrong ones. That’s what it sounds like you did,” said Judge William Kayatta, according to the Associated Press.

During the attack conducted by Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan on April 15, 2013, three people died and 260 more were injured.

“This case should not have been tried in Boston,” the lawyers’ legal brief reads. “Tsarnaev admitted heinous crimes, but even so – perhaps especially so — this trial demanded scrupulous adherence to the requirements of the Constitution and federal law. Again and again, this trial fell short.”

The lawyers argued that two jurors lied about their knowledge of the case. One of those jurors posted a tweet when police caught Tsarnaev in Watertown reading, “Congratulations to all of the law enforcement professionals who worked so hard and went through hell to bring in that piece of garbage.”

Another juror had a Facebook post where his friends told him to “play the part” so he could get on the case and convict Tsarnaev.

Tsarnaev’s lawyers requested these two jurors be removed from the trial before it began, but prosecutors said they did not show bias. Judge George O’Toole, who presided over the trial, concurred, so they stayed on the case.

The lawyers also complained that O’Toole did not allow them to introduce evidence that Tsarnaev’s brother Tamerlan committed a triple murder in 2011.

During Tsarnaev’s trial, his lawyers admitted he partook in the bombing and argued for a life sentence rather than the death penalty. They argued that Tamerlan orchestrated the attack and was primarily responsible for it.

Prosecutors say Tsarnaev was rightly convicted and sentenced, and that the process was just.

“Tsarnaev received a fair trial in Boston, and the district court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to move the trial elsewhere,” they wrote. “The jurors who tried and sentenced Tsarnaev were unbiased.”

Capital punishment has not been legal at the state level in Massachusetts since 1984, according to MassLive. The last execution in Massachusetts took place in 1947.

However, because Tsarnaev’s terrorism constituted a federal crime, he received a death sentence from a federal court in Boston in May 2015. The federal government can pursue the death penalty in certain cases even if the death penalty is not legal in the jurisdiction where the crime occurred.

At the initial trial, the prosecution convicted Tsarnaev of 30 charges, including the use of a weapon of mass destruction.

On Thursday, both sides had an hour to make their case in the appeal. The judges will announce their decision at a later date.

If the sentence is overturned, the prosecution may allow Tsarnaev to accept a life sentence, or they could start a new death penalty trial. If upheld, Tsarnaev’s lawyers could appeal their case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Now 26, Tsarnaev is being held at a supermax prison in Colorado.

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