Supreme Court reinstates death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

In a 6-3 vote, the court rejected defense claims a judge at the Boston Bomber’s 2015 trial improperly restricted the questioning of prospective jurors.

Supreme Court reinstates death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
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The Supreme Court has reinstated the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev after reversing a federal appeals court ruling that voided the initial sentence.

In a 6-3 vote, the court rejected defense claims a judge at the Boston Bomber’s 2015 trial improperly restricted the questioning of prospective jurors. The defense argued that it was wrong to exclude evidence of a separate crime two years before the bombing.

Both Tsarnaev and his older brother Tamerlan were convicted of planting and detonating two pressure-cooker explosives near the marathon finish line in 2013. Three people were killed, and hundreds of others were left with debilitating injuries, including the loss of limbs and mobility.

During a second phase of the trial, the same jury recommended the death sentence to Tsarnaev for the deaths of two people killed by the bomb he placed. His older brother was killed during a shootout with police four days after the bombing. Tamerlan held Dun "Danny" Meng hostage in a carjacking, which he used to escape police until he was killed in a shootout in Watertown by local police.

Much of the tragedy was depicted in the 2016 Mark Wahlberg movie “Patriots Day.”

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit ruled unanimously that U.S. District Judge George O’Toole Jr. failed to allow enough questioning of potential jurors about how closely they followed the news coverage surrounding the terrorist attack, and ordered a new sentencing hearing.

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which shot down the ruling. In the Supreme Court’s ruling, judge Clarence Thomas said that trial judges have broad discretion in deciding what questions to ask prospective jurors.

“That discretion does not vanish when a case garners public attention,” he said, writing for the majority.

The appeals court argued that the judge should have allowed Tsarnaev’s lawyers to bring up a 2011 triple homicide in Boston that investigators suspected was committed by his older brother. His defense wanted to use the earlier crime to show that the Boston Bomber was dominated by his older brother and therefore less responsible for the attacks.

During the trial, Tsarnaev’s lawyers did not deny his role in the marathon bombing, but claimed he was manipulated by his older brother, who they called “the mastermind.”

The Justice Department said in a statement that the evidence of who committed the earlier homicides was unreliable. Both Tamerlan Tsarnaev and another man suspected of the crime were both dead by the time the bombing trial took place.

Judge Thomas said that the Appeals Court was mistaken on that point, pointing out that federal death sentence hearings are not “evidentiary free-for-alls.” He stated that judges may exclude evidence if they deem it will create unfair prejudice, confuse, or mislead the jury.

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  • By Ezra Levant

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