Officials Will Seek the Death Penalty for Boston Bombing Suspect

The case against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will now continue to proceed through the pretrial process.


Officials from the U.S. Department of Justice announced on Thursday—one day ahead of the intended deadline—that they would seek the death penalty in the case against Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz confirmed that Attorney General Eric Holder authorized federal prosecutors to pursue capital punishment against Tsarnaev for his alleged role in setting off two bombs at the Boston Marathon finish line on April 15, 2013, killing three people and injuring more than 250 others.

“We support this decision and the trial team is prepared to move forward with the prosecution,” according to a statement from Ortiz’s office. “While I understand the public interest in this matter, we have rules that limit the release of information and the scope of public statements. The process by which this decision was made is confidential, and I will not comment further about that process other than to say that it entailed a careful and detailed consideration of the particular facts and circumstances of this case.”

The case will now continue to proceed through the pretrial process and the next scheduled court event is a status conference set for February 12, the statement said. No trial date has been set.

In the “Letter of Intent” filed by the government, officials said their decision was based on six of the 17 charges against Tsarnaev that are punishable by death. In total, Tsarnaev faces 30 charges in court.

“Tsarnaev intentionally inflicted serious bodily injury that resulted in the deaths [of four people],” officials wrote in their filing. “[He] committed the offense in an especially heinous, cruel, and depraved manner.”

Prosecutors cited the “substantial planning and premeditation” of the bombing, and how the act of violence was a “betrayal” of his citizenship in the US. “[He] received asylum from the United States; obtained citizenship, and enjoyed the freedoms of a United States citizen; and then betrayed his allegiance,” they wrote.

The deadline for federal officials to decide if they would pursue the death penalty for Tsarnaev was due by Friday, January 31, and experts predicted that it was likely to happen.

From here, as the case moves forward, a jury will have to be selected, and would be tasked with ultimately deciding Tsarnaev’s fate if he’s found guilty. David Rossman, a law professor at Boston University, said although prosecutors are seeking execution, they “don’t get to kill people, juries have to.”

“So one of the things the Justice Department will say is, ‘we are leaving it in the hands of the community,’ and that the jury is going to make the ultimate decision,” he said. “It’s a shared responsibility. It’s not Eric Holder that holds the switch.”

Rossman said it will be difficult to weed through possible jurors because each person will have to answer specific questions about their feelings toward capital punishment. “In a lot of other cases, if you seek the death penalty, when the jury is selected they will be asked if they are opposed to the death penalty, and there are a lot of people that would answer yes to that question and get kicked off the jury automatically,” he said. “What you get is a ‘death qualified jury,’ and that factors into the decision. These people are willing to say they would consider it in the appropriate case.”

Jeff Bauman, a Marathon spectator who lost both of his legs in the attack and was the person credited with identifying Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, would not comment on Ortiz’s decision.”At this time [Jeff] has no comment on the decision to seek the death penalty, and will not be accepting interviews,” a rep for Bauman said.

Celeste and Sydney Corcoran, the mother and daughter duo injured in the blasts, said they are letting the court process take its course. “They have taken enough from us and many others, and we trust in the US legal system to do its job,” they said in a statement.

Below is the “Letter of Intent,” filed by the government, which details the reasons why prosecutors are seeking the harshest punishment for the alleged suspect:

Death Penalty Notice of Intent 1-29-13

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