Boston Marathon bomber’s death sentence likely to hold.. U.S. Supreme Court justices on Wednesday leaned toward restoring convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s death sentence for his role in the 2013 attack that killed three people and wounded more than 260 others.
The court’s conservative majority appeared sympathetic during arguments in the case toward the Justice Department’s challenge to a 2020 lower court ruling that upheld Tsarnaev’s conviction but overturned his death sentence.
The three liberal justices asked tough questions of the government but it appeared unlikely that enough of their six conservative colleagues shared their concerns for Tsarnaev to prevail and secure a new trial to determine whether he should get a sentence of life in prison or death.
Despite President Joe Biden’s stated goal to eliminate capital punishment at the federal level, his administration opted to carry out the appeal – initially launched by the Justice Department under his predecessor Donald Trump – of the ruling by the Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
No federal inmates were executed for 17 years before Trump oversaw 13 executions in the last six months of his term.
Biden’s attorney general, Merrick Garland, has since imposed a moratorium on federal executions.
Tsarnaev’s lawyer Ginger Anders focused on whether U.S. District Judge George O’Toole, who presided over the trial, improperly excluded evidence relating to a 2011 triple murder in Waltham, Massachusetts linked to Tsarnaev’s older brother.
Lawyers for Tsarnaev, who is 28 now and was 19 at the time of the attack, have argued that he played a secondary role in the marathon bombing to his brother Tamerlan, who they called “an authority figure” with “violent Islamic extremist beliefs.”
The conservative justices seemed willing to defer to O’Toole’s decision to exclude the evidence in part because precise details of Tamerlan’s role in the murder have not been established. The primary source of the evidence, a man named Ibragim Todashev, was killed by an FBI agent when he attacked officers during an interview.
Conservative Justice Samuel Alito said if evidence of the Waltham murders were admitted, effectively a trial within a trial would be needed to determine what happened.
Alito called the evidence “inadmissible many times over in a regular trial.”
Fellow conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch wondered what would happen if the evidence were admitted but then it is “impossible to determine who led the Waltham murders.”