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The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in October over whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should face execution for his role in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, the court said Tuesday, after a lower court tossed out the death penalty for Tsarnaev.

Key Facts

The Supreme Court agreed to hear Tsarnaev’s case in March, about six years after Tsarnaev was convicted and sentenced to death by jurors in Boston, following a heavily publicized trial in the wake of the deadly Boston Marathon bombings.

The high court will review the First Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision last year to overturn the death penalty for Tsarnaev and order prosecutors to re-run the sentencing phase of his trial, a decision the Trump and Biden administrations chose to appeal.

The appeals court argued the judge who handled Tsarnaev’s trial failed to fully screen jurors for bias: One Tsarnaev juror mentioned jury selection on Facebook, prompting a friend to encourage him to “play the part” and “send him to jail,” and the jury’s foreperson retweeted a message calling Tsarnaev a “piece of garbage” before the trial.

The appeals court also said the judge should’ve allowed Tsarnaev’s defense team to discuss a brutal 2011 murder Tsarnaev’s deceased brother was allegedly tied to, which may have bolstered Tsarnaev’s claim that his brother was the bombing’s mastermind.

The Department of Justice has pushed back, arguing in a brief to the Supreme Court that Tsarnaev’s judge used a fair process to screen jurors for bias and the 2011 murder wasn’t relevant enough to warrant a “complicated minitrial about that unsolved crime.”

Crucial Quote

“A core promise of our criminal-justice system is that even the very worst among us deserves to be fairly tried and lawfully punished,” the appeals court said last year.


The Biden-era DOJ is asking the Supreme Court to reinstate Tsarnaev’s death penalty conviction even as President Joe Biden says he wants to eliminate the death penalty altogether. The Biden administration temporarily halted all executions two weeks ago, but some anti-death penalty advocates want the president to go further.

Key Background

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his older brother Tamerlan placed two bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon in April 2013, killing three spectators and injuring more than 200 others. Three days later, the two brothers shot and killed a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer, sparking a late-night shootout with police that ended with Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s death and an intense hours-long suburban manhunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. During a trial two years later, lawyers representing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev admitted their client had placed bombs at the marathon, but argued his brother — whom they framed as a violent, ill-tempered religious extremist with an interest in al Qaeda — pressured him into participating.

Surprising Fact

The families of people who were killed in the bombing are split on whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should face death. The mother of victim Krystle Campbell told the Boston Globe “an eye for an eye feels appropriate,” but the parents of Martin Richard — an 8-year-old who died — has encouraged prosecutors not to seek the death penalty, arguing in a Globe op-ed it could “bring years of appeals and prolong reliving the most painful day of our lives.”

Further Reading

The Fall of the House of Tsarnaev (Boston Globe)

Source: Forbes

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