The US Supreme Court on Wednesday heard arguments in the federal government’s efforts to restore the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for his role in the 2013 attacks that killed three people and injured more than 260 others.
Although President Joe Biden said he wanted to abolish the death penalty at the federal level, his administration chose to pursue an appeal originally filed by the Justice Department under his predecessor Donald Trump. The appeal was filed against a lower court’s decision annulling Tsarnaev’s death sentence.
No federal inmate was executed in the 17 years before Trump carried out 13 executions in the final six months of his term.
One of the issues facing the nine justices was whether global media attention to the bombings might have influenced the jury – a question that a lower court led by US District Judge George O’Toole found insufficiently discussed during the jury selection process.
Judge Sonia Sotomayor questioned why the jury were not asked in more detail about their exposure to media coverage of the case.
“There was publicity that day,” said Sotomayor. “There was publicity in the days that followed. There was publicity about what the big politicians and others suggested about the sentence.”
Deputy Attorney General Eric Feigin argued that the appeals court should have left the death penalty in effect, saying a trial judge “appointed an impartial jury that heard a lot of evidence about (Tsarnaev’s) own actions and motivations.”
Feigin said the jury “gave good judgment on terrorists who unhesitatingly injured and injured innocent people, including an eight-year-old boy, to wage jihad.”
The chief justices are also considering whether O’Toole incorrectly omitted evidence relating to three murders in 2011 related to Tsarnaev’s older brother. Lawyers for Tsarnaev, who were now 28 and 19 years old at the time of the attack, argue he played a secondary role in the bombing of his brother Tamerlan, who they describe as an “authoritarian figure” with “violent Islamic extremist beliefs.”
Bombing victims are divided over whether Tsarnaev should be executed. [my/jm]