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The Mass Media

Death penalty reinstated for Boston Marathon bomber

Sketch+of+Dzhokhar+Tsarnaev.
Bianca Oppedisano
Sketch of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Illustration by Bianca Oppedisano / Mass Media Staff

On Friday, March 4, 2022, the Supreme Court decided to uphold the death sentence for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the Boston Marathon bombers. The vote was 6–3, with the Court’s six conservative members voting to reinstate the death penalty for Tsarnaev, and the three liberal members dissenting. 
“Dzhokhar Tsarnaev committed heinous crimes,” wrote Justice Clarence Thomas. “The Sixth Amendment nonetheless guaranteed him a fair trial before an impartial jury. He received one.” 
Tsarnaev’s original trial began in March of 2015, and by April 8, 2015, Tsarnaev was found guilty of all 30 federal counts he was charged with. 17 of these counts held the death penalty as a possible sentence, and the jury found that six of the 17 counts warranted a death sentence. In May of 2015, Tsarnaev was sentenced to death. 
In July of 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the first circuit overturned Tsarnaev’s death sentence, arguing that he did not receive a fair trial. 
According to the Court, the judge in the 2015 trial did not question the potential jurors thoroughly enough to avoid possible bias regarding the highly publicized case, and evidence that may have aided Tsarnaev’s case was excluded from the trial. 
The aforementioned evidence refers to a 2011 triple homicide in Waltham for which Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a suspect. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s older brother, and the other Boston Marathon bomber. He was killed in a shootout shortly after the bombings.
Ginger D. Anders, one of Tsarnaev’s lawyers, sought to include this evidence in Tsarnaev’s trial because, as she argued, it demonstrated that Tamerlan was the mastermind behind the bombing and that Dzhokhar was acting only under his older brother’s orders, and therefore, he did not deserve the death penalty. 
“This is much stronger evidence of Tamerlan’s capacity to influence than any evidence that the jury heard,” wrote Justice Stephen Breyers for him and his fellow liberal dissenters—Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor—when arguing that the original jury should have heard evidence of the 2011 Waltham case. 
“This evidence may have led some jurors to conclude that Tamerlan’s influence was so pervasive that Dzhokhar did not deserve to die for any of the actions he took in connection with the bombings, even those taken outside of Tamerlan’s presence,” added Justice Breyer. 
However, conservative justices were not of the same opinion on this matter.
“It [evidence from the Waltham case] certainly did not show that, almost two years later, Tamerlan led and dominated Dzhokhar in a manner that would mitigate Dzhokhar’s guilt,” said Justice Thomas. 
According to The New York Times: “Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Friday [March 4] that Mr. Biden ‘believes that Tsarnaev should be punished’ but ‘has deep concerns about whether capital punishment is consistent with the values that are fundamental to our justice and fairness.’”
Reactions from Boston politicians were mixed. Republican Governor Charlie Baker supported the Supreme Court’s ruling, while Democratic Representative Ayanna Pressley expressed her disappointment with the Court’s decision. 
Tsarnaev, 19 at the time of the attacks and now 28, is currently on death row at a supermax prison in Colorado. 
Tsarnaev, along with his brother Tamerlan, exploded bombs near the Boston Marathon’s finish line in 2013, killing three people and injuring more than 260. One of the victims who died in the explosion was UMass Boston alumna Krystle Campbell. 

About the Contributor
Bianca Oppedisano, Illustrator