A spokesman for the family of victim Martin Richard said they would have no comment on the prosecution decision.
Governor Deval Patrick said, “One way or another, based on the evidence, Tsarnaev will die in prison.”
“In each milestone of this case — today’s announcement, the trial and every other significant step in the justice process — the people hurt by the Marathon bombings and the rest of us so shocked by it will relive that tragedy. The best we can do is remind each other that we are a stronger Commonwealth than ever, and that nothing can break that spirit,” Patrick said in a statement.
Carol Rose, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said in a statement that her organization was disappointed in Holder’s decision and that it opposes the death penalty “because it is discriminatory and arbitrary, and inherently violates the Constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment.”
Rose noted that Massachusetts does not have a death penalty under state law. She pointed out how the community rallied around the slogan, “Boston Strong,” and said “that means not letting terrorists or anyone else shake us from staying true to our values.”
Prosecutors have said that Tsarnaev downloaded extremist Islamic propaganda from the Internet and, in a confession written on the inside of a boat where he hid before he was captured, was critical of the US government “killing our innocent civilians.”
Holder’s decision means the federal court system in Massachusetts will have two pending death penalty cases. The United States is also seeking the death penalty for Gary Lee Sampson, who carjacked and killed three people in the same week in July 2001. A federal jury agreed to issue the death sentence for Sampson in 2003, but a federal judge vacated that decision in 2011, after finding that one of the jurors withheld information about herself during a screening process. An appeals court upheld the decision, and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty again.
Federal prosecutors have sought the death penalty two other times in Massachusetts. In the case of Darryl Green and Branden Morris, two Dorchester gang members, federal prosecutors ultimately dropped the charges and the men were tried in state court. In the case of Kirsten Gilbert, the former nurse who was convicted in 2001 of administering lethal injections to patients, a jury chose a life sentence rather than the death penalty.
Since 1988, when federal death penalty laws were first passed, juries nationwide have had to choose a punishment for 282 defendants. They’ve chosen death in 73 instances, or 34 percent of the time, according to Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel, which tracked the figures through October.
A Globe poll in September showed that 57 percent of Massachusetts respondents supported a life sentence for Tsarnaev, compared with 33 percent who favored the death penalty. The Boston Bar Association made a public declaration earlier this month in opposition of the death penalty, saying it only offered the “illusion of ultimate punishment.” The group noted that death penalties, even when granted, are rarely carried out.
Since the federal laws were enacted in 1988, only three people have been executed, according to Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel.
David P. Hoose, a Northampton-based lawyer who handles death penalty cases, said that while the federal government has authorized fewer capital cases in recent years, he expected it would seek the death penalty in this case, noting the extent of the bombings, the number of injuries and deaths, and overall nature of the terrorist attack.
“If they ever want to maintain any credibility that there is a federal death penalty and they’re going to use it, of course, they’re going to authorize it in this case,” he said. “They’re not ready to declare a de facto moratorium on the death penalty. If they didn’t approve this one, that’s what they’d be doing.”
Before Holder’s decision was announced, Liz Norden of Stoneham, whose two sons each lost a leg in the Marathon blasts, said she wanted prosecutors to seek the death penalty. She said all of the victims were given an opportunity last year to give their input on whether prosecutors should seek the penalty.
“My life – my kids’ lives – have been changed forever,” said Norden, who was speaking for herself and not her sons, J.P. and Paul. She said she has always been a supporter of the death penalty for particularly heinous crimes, and she will be disappointed if the government ultimately allows a plea bargain enabling Tsarnaev to get life without parole. She sees no reason the government should waste money keeping him alive in prison for decades before he dies.Continued...