Supreme Court to Consider Boston Marathon Bomber’s Death Sentence

WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider the Justice Department’s bid to reinstate a death sentence for convicted Boston Marathon bomber

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

The court said it would review an appeals court ruling from July that said the death sentence couldn’t stand because a trial judge hadn’t properly screened jurors about their exposure to pretrial publicity about the case.

The Justice Department filed its high-court appeal in the final months of the Trump administration, calling the case “one of the most important terrorism prosecutions in our nation’s history” and urging the court to put it “back on track toward its just conclusion.”

The justices will hear the case during their next term, which begins in October.

Tsarnaev and his older brother Tamerlan planted pressure-cooker bombs at the marathon finish line in April 2013, killing three people and injuring more than 260, including 17 who lost limbs. They also shot and killed a campus police officer in Cambridge while trying to flee the region days later. Tamerlan was killed during a confrontation with police.



opposes capital punishment, and during last year’s campaign said he would work to end the death penalty at both the federal and state levels. Although the Justice Department is seeking to reinstate the death penalty imposed on Tsarnaev, the legal issues in the case are of broader concern to prosecutors, such as the vetting judges must do to ensure jurors aren’t prejudiced because of pretrial publicity and the type of evidence defendants are entitled to introduce to mitigate their punishment.

The Trump administration moved aggressively to implement the death penalty after a lengthy hiatus, and put 13 inmates to death in its final months. No federal executions currently are scheduled, and the Biden administration can achieve a moratorium either via a formal declaration or, unofficially, by not initiating the process to inflict the death penalty on some 50 federal inmates under such sentences.

The First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in its decision last summer, said the judge “qualified jurors who had already formed an opinion that Dzhokhar was guilty—and he did so in large part because they answered ‘yes’ to the question whether they could decide this high-profile case based on the evidence.”

The appeals court also said jurors during the penalty phase should have been allowed to hear mitigating evidence that tied Tamerlan to a 2011 triple murder in Waltham, Mass. Dzhokhar’s lawyers had wanted to introduce their evidence as part of their argument that Tamerlan had been previously radicalized, was more culpable in the marathon bombings and influenced Dzhokhar.

The decision didn’t overturn Tsarnaev’s convictions; his lawyers at trial admitted his participation in the 2013 bombings. But the ruling, if it stands, means prosecutors would need to go through a new penalty-phase trial if they hope to have a death sentence reinstated.

Tsarnaev’s legal team said the lower court ruling was correct and asked the justices not to hear the case.

In May 21015, a federal jury deliberated more than 14 hours before sentencing convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death by lethal injection. WSJ’s Ashby Jones discusses. Photo: AP (Video from 5/15/15)

Write to Brent Kendall at and Jess Bravin at

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Source: WSJ – US News

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