US Supreme Court to weigh reimposing Boston bomber death sentence

Justices will hear an appeal of a lower court ruling that overturned the death sentence for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

The US Supreme Court will consider whether to reinstate the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev [File: FBI via AP]

The US Supreme Court said on Monday it will consider reinstating the death sentence for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, presenting President Joe Biden with an early test of his opposition to capital punishment.

The court will hear an appeal from the US Justice Department, filed before former President Donald Trump left office in January, that challenged a lower court’s decision ordering a new trial over the sentence Tsarnaev should receive for the death penalty-eligible crimes for which he was convicted.

President Joe Biden’s administration has given no indication it plans to reverse the Trump administration’s approach to the case, as it has done in several other cases pending at the court.

The 27-year-old Tsarnaev and his elder brother, Tamerlan, precipitated five days of panic in Boston when they detonated two homemade pressure cooker bombs at the marathon’s finish line on April 15, 2013, and then tried to flee the city. In the days that followed, they also killed a police officer. Tsarnaev’s brother died after a gunfight with the police.

Jurors in 2015 found Tsarnaev guilty of all 30 counts he faced and later determined he deserved execution for a bomb he planted that killed Martin Richard, 8; Chinese exchange student Lingzi Lu, 23; restaurant manager, Krystle Campbell, 29, and wounded more than 260 others.

Boston bombings
The aftermath of a bomb blast near the Boston Marathon finish line, April 14, 2013 [File: Stuart Cahill/Boston Herald via EPA]

The Boston-based 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the trial judge “fell short” in screening jurors for potential bias following pervasive news coverage of the bombings.

The Justice Department had moved quickly to appeal, asking the justices to hear and decide the case by the end of the court’s current term, in early summer. Then-Attorney General William Barr said last year, “We will do whatever’s necessary.”

The department argued that the appeals court adopted a standard that wrongly denied trial judges the “broad discretion” to manage juries provided for by Supreme Court precedents.

Prosecutors said if the ruling stands, it would have to retry the death penalty phase of the case and “victims will have to once again take the stand to describe the horrors that respondent inflicted on them”.

The justices agreed to hear the appeal filed by the Trump administration, which carried out executions of 13 federal inmates in its final six months in office.

The case will not be heard until later this year, and it is unclear how the new administration will approach Tsarnaev’s case. The initial prosecution and decision to seek a death sentence was made by the Obama administration, in which Biden served as vice president.

But as president, Biden has pledged to seek an end to the federal death penalty.

Source: News Agencies