On Monday, March 22, the Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal to reinstate the death sentence originally put forth for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombers.
The original decision to solicit the death penalty for Tsarnaev’s case was made by the Obama administration. However, the sentence was thrown out by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit last July. The ruling of the court cites the fact that the original district court did not ask potential jurors about the media coverage they had seen regarding the case—which could have led to potential bias against Tsarnaev—as reason for throwing out the sentence.
The appeal was filed by the Trump administration, who asked the justices to decide on the case before the current term ended for the Supreme Court. Though Tsarnaev’s lawyers acknowledge that he and his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, both set off the two bombs that exploded at the marathon finish line back in 2013, they argue that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was the mastermind behind the act of terrorism, making Dzhokhar Tsarnaev less guilty.
The Supreme Court will hear the case this fall. Because President Biden was Vice President under the administration that initially sought the death penalty for Tsarnaev but is currently opposed to the death penalty and looking to put an end to it, is is nebulous as to how President Biden and his administration will proceed in the matter.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki spoke to reporters on Monday following the announcement by the Supreme Court.
"President Biden made clear, as he did on the campaign trail, that he has grave concerns about whether capital punishment, as currently implemented, is consistent with the values that are fundamental to our sense of justice and fairness,” said Secretary Psaki. “He's also expressed his horror at the events of that day and […] Tsarnaev's actions."
Should the Supreme Court decide to reinstate the death penalty for Tsarnaev, there is no requirement for President Biden to schedule an execution.
The Boston Marathon Bombing occurred on April 15, 2013. It is classified as a terrorist attack. The Tsarnaev brothers—Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev—set off two pressure-cooker bombs near the marathon finish line, invoking fear in Bostonians and Americans alike, and causing a manhunt that lasted for days and led to a city-wide shutdown.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was 26 years old, died in a firefight with police after he and his brother were found hiding out in Watertown. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, then 19 years old, had fled the scene in a stolen SUV, running over his brother in the process. Tsarnaev was arrested the following day, after being found hiding out in a boat in a Watertown resident’s backyard.
The Boston Marathon Bombings killed three people, and injured more than 260. Those who died were Martin Richard, Lingzi Lu, and Krystle Campbell, a graduate of UMass Boston. Sean Collier, an MIT police officer, was also killed by the Tsarnaev brothers, who were on the run and trying to steal the officer’s weapon at the time.
Currently, Tsarnaev is locked up in a federal prison in Florence, Colorado. On April 8, 2015, Tsarnaev was convicted of all 30 criminal counts laid out against him—17 of which held the death penalty as a possible sentence. Of the 17, the jury agreed that six warranted execution.