Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will once again face execution for committing the 2013 bombing, as the U.S. Supreme Court reversed an appeals court’s decision to throw out his sentence Friday in a 6-3 ruling.
A federal district court jury found Tsarnaev guilty in 2015 and sentenced him to death for six of the crimes he was charged with, but an appeals court threw out the sentencing in 2020, ruling the court hadn’t adequately vetted if jurors had been biased by pretrial media reports about the case and improperly excluded some evidence.
The Supreme Court reversed the appeals court decision, siding with the federal government and ruling the district court “did not abuse its discretion” in how it conducted the trial and its ruling should not have been thrown out.
Tsarnaev pled guilty to the charges, but his attorneys had argued he should not receive the death penalty because his older brother Tamerlan had pressured him to participate in the bombing, and said the court should have admitted evidence showing previous crimes Tamerlan had committed.
In the court’s majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the evidence Tsarnaev had wanted to include “did not tend to show that Tamerlan acted as the leader who pressured Todashev into committing the crime,” however.
Liberal Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor dissented, saying the district court should have admitted the evidence against Tamerlan and should hold a new sentencing trial.
“Dzhokhar Tsarnaev committed heinous crimes,” Thomas wrote for the court’s majority. “The Sixth Amendment nonetheless guaranteed him a fair trial before an impartial jury. He received one.”
“I have written elsewhere about the problems inherent in a system that allows for the imposition of the death penalty,” Breyer wrote in his dissent for the court. “This case provides just one more example of some of those problems.”
The Biden administration has drawn scrutiny for arguing in favor of reinstating Tsarnaev’s death sentence, given that President Joe Biden has opposed the death penalty and Attorney General Merrick Garland imposed a moratorium on federal executions in July 2021.
The Tsarnaev brothers planted two bombs near the Boston Marathon finish line on April 15, 2013, killing three and injuring more than 260. A manhunt ensued after the brothers were identified as suspects soon after the attack, which resulted in the death of a police officer, and Tamerlan died from injuries sustained during a shootout with police and after Dzhokhar hit him with a car. Dzhokhar was then taken into federal custody later in April. Reuters reported before the Supreme Court heard the case in October that survivors of the bombing were split on whether they believed Dzhokhar should face the death penalty, and parents of one of the victims who died in the attack said in a 2015 op-ed they didn’t want prosecutors to pursue it, because the lengthy legal proceedings that would ensue would “prolong reliving the most painful day of our lives.”