Marathon bomber could still face death penalty

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WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court said Monday it will consider reinstating the death sentence for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, presenting President Joe Biden with an early test of his opposition to capital punishment.

The justices agreed to hear an appeal filed by the Trump administration, which carried out executions of 13 federal inmates in its final six months in office, including three in the last week of President Donald Trump’s term.

The case won’t be heard until the fall, and it’s unclear how the new administration will approach Tsarnaev’s case. The initial prosecution and decision to seek a death sentence was made by the Obama administration, in which Biden served as vice president.

Biden has pledged to seek an end to the federal death penalty, but he has said nothing about how he plans to do so.

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In just over two months in office, the new administration has reversed its predecessor’s position in several high court cases. But the Justice Department has not notified the court of any change in its position in Tsarnaev’s case.

Even if the court were to reinstate the death sentence, nothing would force Biden to schedule an execution date.

In late July, the federal appeals court in Boston threw out Tsarnaev’s sentence because, it said, the judge at his trial did not do enough to ensure the jury would not be biased against him.

The Justice Department had moved quickly to appeal, asking the justices to hear and decide the case by the end of the court’s current term, in early summer. Then-Attorney General William Barr said last year, “We will do whatever’s necessary.”

Tsarnaev’s lawyers acknowledged at the beginning of his trial that he and his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, set off the two bombs at the marathon finish line on April 15, 2013. But they argued that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is less culpable than his brother, whom they said was the mastermind behind the attack.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev died following a gunfight with police and being run over by his brother, at the wheel of a carjacked SUV, as he fled. He was 26. Police captured a bloodied and wounded Dzhokhar Tsarnaev hours later in the Boston suburb of Watertown, where he was hiding in a boat stored in a backyard.

Tsarnaev, now 27, was convicted of all 30 charges against him, including conspiracy and use of a weapon of mass destruction and the killing of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer during the Tsarnaev brothers’ getaway attempt. The appeals court upheld all but a few of his convictions.



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