US Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has authorized federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the young man accused in the Boston Marathon terror bombings in April that killed three people, injured more than 260 others, and sent a wave of shock and fear through the region.
“After consideration of the relevant facts, the applicable regulations and the submissions made by the defendant’s counsel, I have determined that the United States will seek the death penalty in this matter. The nature of the conduct at issue and the resultant harm compel this decision,” Holder said in a statement.
Prosecutors notified a federal judge in Boston today of the decision.
“We support this decision and the trial team is prepared to move forward with the prosecution,” Boston US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said in a statement.
Miriam Conrad, who is leading Tsarnaev’s defense team, had no comment.
US District Court George A. O’Toole Jr. had given prosecutors until Friday to make the decision. With the authorization, the US attorney’s office can move forward in requesting a trial date. The death penalty can also now be a factor in any plea negotiations.
Tsarnaev, 20, faces 30 federal charges for setting off the April 15 bombs that plunged the region into terror for five days, until his arrest in Watertown. His older brother and alleged accomplice, Tamerlan, 26, was killed in a firefight with police.
Krystle Campbell, 29, Lingzi Lu, 23, and Martin Richard, 8, were killed in the blasts. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev also faces state charges in the fatal shooting of MIT Police Officer Sean Collier, whom authorities say the brothers murdered as they tried to flee the area.
Prosecutors said in today’s filing with the court they would seek the death penalty for 17 of the charges Tsarnaev faces, and they would prove the following factors, as required by law: that the killings and injuries were intentional, that Tsarnaev willingly took part in the acts that resulted in death, and that he knew they could end in death.
The prosecutors also cited other factors that would allow for the death penalty: that death occurred during the commission of another crime, that the crime itself created a grave risk of death, that there was planning involved, that there were multiple killings and vulnerable victims, and that there was a “heinous, cruel and depraved manner of committing the offense.”
Prosecutors also cited several arguments that they weren’t required to make by law, including “betrayal of the United States,” and the selection of the Marathon as the site of the bombings.
Tsarnaev “enjoyed the freedoms of a United States citizen [then] betrayed his allegiance to the United States by killing and maiming people in the United States,” prosecutors said, adding that Tsarnaev had “demonstrated a lack of remorse.”
Prosecutors in federal cases where the death penalty is a possibility are required to decide at the outset whether to seek it. As attorney general, Holder held the ultimate authority to make the decision.
Prosecutors from Ortiz’s office and defense lawyers were allowed to file confidential recommendations to Holder in recent months, stating their arguments for and against the death penalty. Ortiz has not said what her recommendation was.
Ortiz said in her statement today that “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.”
Judge O’Toole has appointed four defense attorneys to represent Tsarnaev, including Judy Clarke, who specializes in death penalty cases.
If Tsarnaev is convicted, prosecutors would still have to present their arguments for the death penalty to a jury in a separate sentencing trial. Assistant US Attorney William D. Weinreb has said in previous court hearings that a trial could last three months, and that the separate sentencing trial could last an additional two months.
Jarrod Clowery, a 36-year-old carpenter from Milville whose legs were badly burned and struck by shrapnel during the bombings, said Holder’s decision had no emotional effect on him.
He never talks about the Tsarnaev brothers, something that happened naturally as he recovered from his injuries — not out of a conscious choice to avoid the subject.
“I’m moving on with my life,” he said. “It has no bearing on my life whatsoever ... I don’t even think about the trial or anything like that. [The attackers] were tried and convicted by a power higher than us the moment they did what they did.”Continued...