Supreme Court Starts Its Review Of The Boston Marathon Bomber’s Sentencing

October 14, 2021

By a Biometrica staffer

Just days after the Boston Marathon took place for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic began, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments over whether the death sentence should be reinstated for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bomber. Tsarnaev was convicted of carrying out the deadly bombing on April 15, 2013, that killed three people and injured more than 260.

On Wednesday, Oct. 13, the Supreme Court seemed ready to reinstate the death penalty for Tsarnaev. Reciting the gruesome details of the 2013 bombing and its violent aftermath, an attorney for the Biden administration asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the death sentence for Tsarnaev, ABC News reported.

The court’s six conservative justices seemed likely to embrace the Biden administration’s argument that a federal appeals court mistakenly threw out Tsarnaev’s death sentence for his role in the bombing that killed three people near the finish line of the marathon in 2013, the Associated Press reported. The court’s three liberal justices appeared more favorable to Tsarnaev.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston ruled last year that the trial judge improperly excluded evidence that could have shown Tsarnaev was deeply influenced by his older brother, Tamerlan, and was somehow less responsible for the carnage, the AP News article added. The appeals court also faulted the judge for not sufficiently questioning jurors about their exposure to extensive news coverage of the bombing.

“After watching video of [Tsarnaev] by himself personally placing a shrapnel bomb behind a group of children at the Boston Marathon, the jury in this case returned a nuanced verdict unanimously recommending capital punishment for that specific deliberate act,” Deputy Solicitor General Eric Feigin said, adding that the court of appeals should have let that verdict stand, per ABC News.

The defense argues the prior killings illustrate that Tamerlan had a history of exerting influence over accomplices and that he helped indoctrinate his younger brother to participate in future acts of jihad. 

On April 13, 2013, the scene at the Boston Marathon was one of carnage. Two explosions in rapid succession were followed by a fireball and smoke. Children and adults were screaming, and severed limbs were everywhere as medics, police, and bystanders raced to staunch the bleeding, NPR said in a report. Three days later, the FBI released surveillance camera photos of two bombing suspects and asked for the public’s help in finding them. The two men were later identified as 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his 19-year-old brother, Dzhokhar. 

By then the brothers, after initially separating, had regrouped. After loading Tamerlan’s car with pipe bombs, a handgun, and another shrapnel bomb, they drove past the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where they saw a campus police squad car, approached from behind, and shot officer Sean Collier in the head at point-blank range, the NPR report adds.

After that, they carjacked an SUV and stole $800 from the car owner at an ATM, but the owner managed to escape and the police used the car’s tracking device to find it in Watertown, still being driven by the brothers. Tamerlan was ultimately killed after a shootout with police, but Dzhokhar escaped.

He was found the next night hiding in a boat under a tarp and covered with blood. He had used a pencil to write out a manifesto warning that the mujahideen had “awoken” and that “you are fighting men who look into the barrel of your gun and see heaven.”

If the appellate ruling is affirmed, Tsarnaev will have to face a new sentencing trial if the administration decides to continue pressing for the death sentence. The Supreme Court is expected to hand down a decision in this case by June 2022.