Supreme Court to decide on death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is pictured in this handout photo presented as evidence by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston, Massachusetts on March 23, 2015.

U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston | Reuters

The Supreme Court said on Monday that it will decide whether the death penalty can be reinstated for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was convicted of plotting along with his older brother the 2013 bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in which three were killed and hundreds injured.

In an order, the court agreed to hear an appeal filed by the Department of Justice of a lower court decision which wiped Tsarnaev’s death sentence. The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the the trial court judge, U.S. District Court Judge George O’Toole, did not adequately ensure that jurors were unbiased in the high-profile case.

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Attorneys for Tsarnaev argued in court papers that the justices should not consider the Justice Department’s appeal. They wrote that even if the court sides with the Justice Department in the case, it is likely that the 1st Circuit would still strike the death sentence on other grounds related to jury misconduct.

Tsarnaev was given 20 life sentences in addition to the death penalty, and will remain in prison for the remainder of his life regardless of the Supreme Court’s action.

The case was appealed by the Justice Department in October, while former President Donald Trump was still in office. It will pose a test of President Joe Biden’s commitment to ending the federal death penalty, which Trump resumed after a nearly two decade pause.

Civil rights groups have pushed Biden to order Justice Department prosecutors to stop seeking the penalty. Biden campaigned on working with Congress to eliminate death sentences at the federal level and to incentivize states to do so as well.

The court will likely hear the case in its term beginning next fall, with a decision expected by the summer of 2022.

The White House an an attorney for Tsarnaev did not immediately return requests for comment.

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