Death penalty for convicted Boston Bomber Dzhokar Tsarnaev is not guaranteed. Despite a federal jury on Friday, May 15 condemning the younger of the Tsarnaev brothers to death for his role in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing attack, his execution is not assured as many years of appeals likely lie ahead. The jury found that capital punishment was the appropriate sentence for six of 17 capital counts, which the 21-year-old Tsarnaev was charged with in connection with his actions related to the domestic terrorist attack. The same jury of seven women and five men also found him guilty on 30 capital counts related to the terrorist attack in April 2015.
The charges against Boston Bomber Tsarnaev included the use of weapons of mass destruction, malicious destruction of property, and bombing of a public place. All six charges for which Tsarnaev was sentenced to death involved his planting of pressure-cooker bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Apr. 15, 2013. These were charges his lawyers never disputed. While the government sought the death penalty in the case, the jury had the option of sentencing the domestic terrorist to life without parole.
Perhaps one of the biggest factors in the convicted bomber’s favor is his defense attorney. Judy Clarke has built a reputation on defending those accused of serious crimes and successfully saving them from execution. Some of Clarke’s past clients include Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Atlanta Olympic Bomber Eric Rudolph, Jared Lee Loughner, the Arizona gunman who shot and wounded retired Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), September 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, and Susan Smith, who drowned her five children in 1994. It is important to note that Clarke has not only defended these well-known offenders, but has helped them evade capital punishment. The fact that Clarke remains Boston Bomber Dzhokar Tsarnaev’s legal counsel could mean that the death penalty is not guaranteed for the young terrorist.
Now that the jury has reached its conclusion and sentenced Tsarnaev to death, the capital punishment voted on by the jury today must be formally imposed by the court. This step usually occurs a few months after the jury’s finding. Following the court’s action, there will likely be a motion for a new trial by defense counsel, followed by a complex appeal process that could take many years or even decades.
While it remains to be seen what will happen with the Tsarnaev case, the next step for his defense team would be to file a motion for a new trial with the original trial judge, U.S. District Court Judge George O’Toole, Jr. Before the Tsarnaev trial began, the defense argued for a change of venue with the contention that the Boston Bomber could not get a fair trial in Boston, MA. It is possible that those grounds alone could substantiate the need for a new trial. However, if the motion for a new trial is denied, a two-part appeals process would follow.
The last federal capital punishment case involved Oklahoma City Bomber Timothy McVeigh. That case took four years from his conviction to the imposition of his death sentence and execution. In this case, the time frame was truncated and expedited, due to the fact that McVeigh eventually ended his appeals and accepted his punishment.
The same jury, who also found him guilty on 30 capital counts related to the terrorist attack in April 2015, has sentenced Boston Bomber Dzhokar Tsarnaev to the death penalty for his actions in connection with the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing attacks, which left six people dead, 17 maimed, and more than 250 others injured. However, due to the complexities involved in federal capital punishment cases, Tsarnaev’s death sentence is not guaranteed. The appeals process for capital punishment cases is lengthy and complicated. Added to the already complex equation is the presence of the convicted bomber’s legal counsel, Judy Clarke, who has built a reputation on defending those accused of serious crimes and successfully saving them from execution. While it remains to be seen what will happen with the Tsarnaev case, one thing that can be concluded is the death penalty for convicted Boston Bomber Dzhokar Tsarnaev is not guaranteed.
By Leigh Haugh
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