On Friday, a federal appeals court vacated the death sentence for Boston Marathon convicted bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, saying the judge who oversaw the case did not screen jurors adequately for potential biases. The case had rocked the city of Boston.
A three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new penalty-phase trial on whether the 27-year-old Tsarnaev should be executed.
The judges left intact the most serious death sentence-eligible convictions but ordered a new trial for the penalty phase to determine whether Tsarnaev receives another death penalty sentence or receives life in prison.
“Just to be crystal clear,” the court said, “because we are affirming the convictions… and the many life sentences imposed on those remaining counts (which Dzhokhar has not challenged), Dzhokhar will remain confined to prison for the rest of his life, with the only question remaining being [sic] whether the government will end his life by executing him.”
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Boston said they were reviewing the opinion and had no immediate comment.
“I’m not surprised,” said Ed Davis, who was the Boston Police Commissioner at the time of the bombings, regarding the ruling. “I am concerned though that the victims have to relive this incident by this ruling.” The new trial will open up the still painful wounds for those who died and the hundreds of those wounded and maimed.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh agreed with the concerns of Davis. “I think the concern that some families have had from the very beginning was that this day was going to come, where they would have to relive another trial, and you know they shouldn’t have to relive another trial,” Walsh said. “The only thing that I’ll say is a positive… this guy will never see the light of day again. He’s going to live within those four walls. He got exactly what he deserved.”
Tsarnaev’s lawyers had said, prior to Dzhokhar’s sentencing, that he and his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, were responsible for setting off the two bombs at the marathon’s finish line. But they argued that Dzhokhar was less culpable than his brother, who they said was the mastermind behind the attack.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev died during a gunbattle with police a few days after the bombing. In a strange turn of events, he died when his brother, in an attempt to escape in a carjacked Mercedes, ran over him as he was wrestling with police.
Dzhokar was arrested shortly after when he climbed into a boat that had been shrinkwrapped by its owner. The owner saw blood on the boat’s side and noticed that the shrinkwrap had been torn so he called the police. Dzhokar refused to surrender. The police threw flashbangs and responded with a fusillade of bullets that wounded Tsarnaev in multiple places, at which point he surrendered.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was convicted on 30 charges, including conspiracy and use of a weapon of mass destruction. He is now an inmate at a high-security supermax prison in Florence, Colorado.
Tsarnaev’s attorneys argued that the “first fundamental error” was the judge’s refusal to move the case out of Boston. They cited that the tremendous media coverage in the city and the state-wide shock of the bombing tainted the jury pool. They also called attention to two jurors who lied by concealing prejudiced remarks made on social media about the case before the trial. The appeals court agreed.
“Radical jihadists bent on killing Americans, the duo caused battlefield-like carnage,” Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson wrote in the ruling.
But she added: “A core promise of our criminal-justice system is that even the very worst among us deserves to be fairly tried and lawfully punished” The same point was forcefully made by the then-U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts during a presser at the trial’s end.
President Donald Trump, at the Tampa International Airport, was blunt in his assessment of the sentence’s overturning.
“I see in Boston, where you have the animal that killed so many people during the Boston Marathon,” Trump said. “They just sent this conviction for the death penalty back to the lower courts so they’ll argue about that for a long time. It’s ridiculous.”