Jurors In The Boston Bombing Case Had To Agree To Consider The Death Penalty Before Being Selected
After more than 14 hours of deliberation, a federal jury sentenced Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death Friday afternoon for his role in the 2013 Boston marathon bombing. Three people were killed in the attack after Dzhokar and his older brother, Tamerlan, planted a pressure cooker bomb near the race’s finish line.
Tsarnaev’s guilt in the case was never debated: “It was him,” Tsarnaev’s lawyer, Judy Clarke, bluntly admitted on the first day of the trial. The defense built its case around the influence of Dzhokhar’s older brother, Tamerlan, the alleged mastermind behind the attack, whom Dzhokhar “followed like a puppy” and was killed three days after the bombing during a face-off with police officers.
“When Tamerlan decided it was time, his little brother went with him — and when he did, he was all in,” David Bruck, one of Tsarnaev’s lead attorneys, said. “But the evidence will show that if Tamerlan hadn’t led the way, Jahar would not have done any of it — no matter what was on his computer, or what kind of songs he listened to.”
That argument did not ultimately sway the jury, which unanimously voted to send the 21-year-old to death. Tsarnaev would have been sentenced to life in prison if just one juror had disagreed with the decision. But in order to serve on this case’s jury, participants had to be “death qualified” — meaning that they are not categorically opposed to the idea of the death penalty. “The jurors who ultimately decide Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s fate will begin their task with a shared bias — their willingness to consider capital punishment,” wrote Joan Vennochi in an editorial for the Boston Globe.
In that regard, the jurors are not particularly representative of Boston’s populace. Capital punishment is deeply unpopular in that city and in Massachusetts, which has no death penalty for state crimes.
In a front-page editorial for the Boston Globe, the Richards family, whose eight-year-old son Martin was one of the three people killed in the bombing, implored the government to drop the death penalty, noting that the “continued pursuit of that punishment could bring years of appeals and prolong reliving the most painful day of our lives.”
According to a recent poll conducted during the trial, more than 60 percent of Boston voters said they support life in prison without the possibility of parole for Tsarnaev, while just 27 percent said that he should be put to death. And nearly sixty percent of residents in the Boston area and 63 percent in the city of Boston oppose the use of the death penalty, according to the poll. “Even though the bombing happened here … even though it had a deep personal impact on a lot of people … it doesn’t seem to have changed people’s views on the death penalty versus life in prison,” the president of the polling group said.
Since 1963, only three people (including notorious Oklahoma city bomber Timothy McVeigh) have been put to death by the federal government. Tsarnaev is now the 62nd inmate on federal death row, and at 21, the youngest. But his appeals process could take decades to work out; the group’s most senior members have been awaiting execution for more than 20 years.
According to The Guardian, Tsarnaev’s lawyer, Judy Clarke, has already indicated “two strong lines of likely appeal: that on prejudicial grounds the trial should never have been held in Boston where the bombings happened; and that the defense was given insufficient time to mount a full argument in mitigation that might have convinced the jury to spare Tsarnaev from the federal death chamber in Terre Haute, Indiana.”
But even if the appeals process is fast-tracked, the nationwide shortage of lethal injection drugs — caused by a European-led boycott on on the export of executing-using anaesthetics — could prolong Tsarnaev’s fate.
The likely lengthy appeals process would cast a shadow over the lives of their remaining children, the Richards argued in the Globe editorial, serving as a constant reminder of what the family lost.
“We can never replace what was taken from us, but we can continue to get up every morning and fight another day,” they wrote. “As long as the defendant is in the spotlight, we have no choice but to live a story told on his terms, not ours. The minute the defendant fades from our newspapers and TV screens is the minute we begin the process of rebuilding our lives and our family.”