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Supreme Court Reinstates Death Penalty for Boston Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

The Supreme Court voted to reinstate the death penalty sentence against Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in a 6-3 decision Friday, reversing a lower court’s ruling that ordered a new penalty phase.

“Dzhokhar Tsarnaev committed heinous crimes,” Judge Clarence Thomas wrote in his decision. “The Sixth Amendment nonetheless guaranteed him a fair trial before an impartial jury. He received one.”

A court of appeals previously ruled that evidence that would have further implicated Dzhokhar’s older brother Tamerlan as the bombing’s mastermind was not entered into evidence during his criminal trial; Dzhokhar’s lawyer Ginger Anders cited Tamerlan’s role in an unrelated triple-homicide in Massachusetts, a murder now associated with Tamerlan, as evidence that Dzhokhar was just following his “radicalized” older brother’s orders, CNN reports. 

“A jury found Dzhokhar guilty of 30 federal crimes and recommended the death penalty for 6 of them. The District Court accordingly sentenced Dzhokhar to death,” Thomas continued. “The Court of Appeals vacated the death sentence. We now reverse.”

Questions regarding the jury’s pretrial exposure to the terror attack also surfaced during appeal, which asked that Dzhokhar spend life in prison without parole instead of facing the death penalty.

“The court was concerned that a media-content question had ‘the wrong emphasis,’ focusing on what a juror knew before coming to court, rather than on potential bias,” Thomas wrote. “Based on ‘years’ of trial experience, the court concluded that jurors who came in with some prior knowledge would still be able to act impartially and ‘hold the government to its proof.’ The District Court’s decision was reasonable and well within its discretion, as our precedents make clear.”

The Supreme Court’s liberal judges voted against reinstating the capitol punishment sentence against Tsarnaev, with outgoing judge Stephen Breyer noting, “I have written elsewhere about the problems inherent in a system that allows for the imposition of the death penalty. … This case provides just one more example of some of those problems.”

Three people were killed and hundreds more injured in the bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013, with the Tsarnaev brothers also responsible for the death of a MIT police officer later that night. After being found guilty, the now-28-year-old Dzhokhar was sentenced to the death penalty in 2015. Even with the reinstated death penalty, it’s unclear whether Dzhokhar will receive capitol punishment in the near-future, as the Biden administration placed a moratorium on federal executions in 2021.

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