(Trends Wide) — The Supreme Court on Friday upheld the death sentence for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of two brothers responsible for the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Tsarnaev caused the deaths of three spectators and a police officer. The decision reverses a decision of a lower court.
The ruling was 6-3 on conservative-liberal lines.
“Dzhokhar Tsarnaev committed heinous crimes,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority. “However, the Sixth Amendment guaranteed him a fair trial before an impartial jury. He got it.”
The judges’ ruling reversed a federal appeals court that had overturned Tsarnaev’s death sentence and ordered a new trial at sentencing phase. At the time, the lower court said that Tsarnaev would remain in prison for the rest of his life for an “unspeakable brutal act,” but that the trial court had made mistakes regarding issues of pre-trial publicity, as well like the exclusion of evidence, something that could have helped Tsarnaev’s case.
The case against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
Tsarnaev was convicted in 2015 of the deaths of Krystle Campbell, Martin Richard and Lingzi Lu in the marathon and Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier several days later, among other charges. Hundreds of people were injured after Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan set off two shrapnel bombs near the finish line, leaving sidewalks littered with ammunition, nails, metal scraps and glass shards.
Tamerlan was later killed in a shootout with police, but Dzhokhar is being held in a federal prison in Florence, Colorado, following his guilty verdict.
The Trump administration had initially asked the Supreme Court to intervene and reinstate the original sentence. The Joe Biden administration renewed the request, calling Tsarnaev a “terrorist” who acted in “fostering jihad” and urging the judges to restore the jury’s death recommendation after the “carnage at the finish line.”
It is unclear whether Tsarnaev would actually be executed given the Biden administration’s position on the federal death penalty. Currently, there is a moratorium on federal executions while the government studies the issue. Over the years, survivors and family members have been divided on whether Tsarnaev should receive the death penalty.
The Evidence Debate in the Waltham Case
Ginger D. Anders, Tsarnaev’s attorney, argued there is no question that the bombings were a “serious and shocking act of terrorism,” but said the lower court made two “serious errors,” compromising the necessary safeguards to ensure that his client received an appropriate sanction.
Anders tried to force the discovery of an unsolved triple murder that had occurred in 2011 in Waltham, Massachusetts. Investigators came to suspect that a friend of Tamerlan’s, Ibragim Todoshev, was involved in the crime. Todoshev initially denied his involvement to agents, but eventually asked for a deal. He said that he had been involved, but that Tamerlan had actually committed the murders by slitting the throats of the victims. Todoshev had started to write a confession but then attacked the officers who shot and killed him.
Anders tried to include the evidence because he argued that it supported the proposition that his client did not deserve the death penalty, because he was only acting at the direction of his older brother, who played a much larger role in carrying out the attacks in the marathon, as evidenced by his past experience.
Judge Stephen Breyer, writing for his liberal colleagues Justice Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, disagreed Friday that they believed the jury should have heard the evidence.
“This is much stronger evidence of Tamerlan’s ability to influence than any evidence the jury heard,” he said. He added that the reasons given by the trial court “do not justify excluding the evidence of Waltham’s murder and it was an abuse of discretion to do so.”
“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.” Breyer stated.
Breyer said, “when death is at stake, the courts (and Congress) believe that particular judicial care is required.”
Trends Wide’s Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.