WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court of the United States announced Monday it will consider reinstating the death sentence for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, convicted in 2015 of 30 federal crimes related to terrorism. The decision presents newly-elected-President Joe Biden with an early challenge to his campaigned opposition to capital punishment.
Dzhokhar, then 19, accompanied his brother, Tamerlan, to Boylston Street near the Boston Marathon in the early afternoon hours of April 25, 2013, to carry out the bombings that killed three people and injured over 264. The acts triggered a public manhunt that shut down the city of Boston for days. While evading authorities, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar killed an MIT police officer before stealing an SUV. Tamerlan died following a gunfight with police after he was run over by his brother, who was captured hiding in a boat parked in the backyard of a home in Watertown.
Last July, a ruling from a lower federal court of appeals determined Tsarnaev, who recently filed a handwritten lawsuit accusing a federal prison in Colorado of taking his ballcap and denying him showers, will remain in prison for the rest of his life due to his “unspeakably brutal acts,” however, also ruled that he should be given a new penalty-phase trial, citing a number of issues including improperly screened jurors.
The Trump Administration promptly appealed the lower court’s ruling, with then Attorney-General William Barr saying the Department of Justice will ‘do whatever’s necessary’ to see Tsarnaev’s sentence reinstated.
The justices agreed to hear the appeal by the Trump Administration, which oversaw the most prolific federal execution period in over 100 years, calling for the sentence’s reinstatement. Trump made waves as a staunch pro-death-penalty president, putting 13 federal inmates to death in his term – breaking a hiatus of nearly two decades.
The previous administration argued in court filings that the pressure cooker bombs Tsarnaev placed “caused devastating injuries that left the street with a ravaged, combat-zone look” which included “blood and body parts everywhere, littered among BBs, nails, metal scraps and glass fragments.”
Attorneys for Tsarnaev agree that Dzhokhar and his brother planted bombs at the Boston Marathon, however, argue that Dzhokhar is less culpable than his brother, who they say is the ‘mastermind’ behind the attack.
If the Supreme Court will reinstate the sentence, there’s nothing forcing Biden to schedule an execution date for Tsarnaev or any of the other 47 prisoners housed on federal death row. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that Biden “has grave concerns about whether capital punishment as currently implemented is consistent with the values that are fundamental to our sense of justice and fairness. He has also expressed his horror at the events of that day and Tsarnaev’s actions,”
Psaki went on to inform reporters that the White House had no updates on any change to the federal death penalty, an action that worries anti-death penalty activists who urge Biden to commute the sentences of every inmate on federal death row and take extra steps to abolish the practice entirely.
Ashley Kincaid Eve, an Indianapolis-based attorney and activist who protested for condemned inmates on federal death row last year, said she views Tsarnaev’s case as a ‘perfect opportunity’ for President Biden to act on his anti-death-penalty stance. Various activists including Eve have been strong voices condemning the death penalty and urging the president to end the punishment’s use at the federal level.
“When [Biden] vowed to work to end the federal death penalty, he was aware of the most notorious on death row,” she told ethanb822.com. “If he’s truly committed to ending the death penalty, now is the time for his DOJ to dismiss the petition, accept a life sentence for Tsarnaev, and commute all other federal death sentences to life.”
Eve went on to characterize the upcoming decision as the ‘easiest campaign promise’ for Biden to keep.
“He has a moral obligation, if his newfound stance on capital punishment is truly sincere, to commute all sentences to life, particularly with his intimate involvement in the writing and passage of our federal death penalty laws,” Eve added.
The Supreme Court will hear the previous administration’s appeal for reinstatement of Tsarnaev’s sentence later this year.