WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court appeared set on Wednesday to restore the death sentence on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was convicted of aiding in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.
Last year, a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston upheld Mr. Tsarnaev’s conviction in 27 counts. But the appeals court ruled that his death sentence should be overturned because the trial judge had not sufficiently questioned the jurors about his pretrial propaganda contacts and the evidence relating to his older brother and partner Tamerlan Tsarnaev. was thrown out.
Bombings near the marathon’s finish line killed three people and injured 260, many of whom were seriously injured. Seventeen people lost limbs. A law enforcement officer was killed as the brothers fled a few days later. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died after a shootout with the police.
Following the appeals court’s decision, federal government lawyers during the Trump administration urged the Supreme Court to hear the case. The Biden administration has pursued the case, United States v. Tsarnaev, No. 20-443, even though President Biden has said that he will work to end the federal execution and that the Justice Department under his administration has executed the federal execution. Giving is prohibited. a punishment.
The judges spent only a short time discussing whether the interrogation of potential jurors, which took 21 days, was sufficient. But more liberal judges expressed concern about the exclusion of evidence that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was involved in an unsolved triple murder in Waltham, Mass., in 2011. He said the evidence could have strengthened defense lawyers’ argument that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had controlled and intimidated his younger brother.
Justice Elena Kagan said, “The whole point of the defendant’s mitigation case was that he was influenced by his older brother, and he would have gone to the exact same point.”
The argument did not seem to gain traction with more conservative members of the court, who viewed the evidence as equivocal and speculative. It came from a 2013 FBI interview with a friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev named Ibragim Todashev.
Mr Todashev said he had participated in a 2011 robbery of three drug dealers in Waltham. But he said that Tamerlan Tsarnaev alone had slit the throats of the victims. As Mr Todashev begins to write his confession, he is suddenly attacked by agents, who shot and killed him.
Federal government attorney Eric J. Feigin said Mr Todashev’s statements were “accusations of unreliable hearing” by “a dead man with a powerful motive to lie”.
Even if the trial judge made a mistake in excluding the evidence, Mr. Feigin said, the error was harmless, given the overwhelming evidence that Zhokhar Tsarnaev “was a motivated terrorist who voluntarily crippled innocent people, including an eight-year-old boy.” and was murdered, to pursue jihad.”
Mr. Tsarnaev’s lawyer Ginger D. Anders disagreed. “The voltam evidence would have changed the terms of the debate,” she said.
“The exclusion of evidence distorts the penalty phase here by enabling the government to present a deeply misleading account of key issues of influence and leadership,” she said.
Justice Kagan said the judge had allowed the jury to hear other evidence relating to Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
“This court gave evidence about Tamerlan hitting someone in the chest,” she said. “This court provided evidence about Tamerlan’s yelling at people. This court provided evidence about Tamerlan’s assault on a fellow student, because it showed what kind of person Tamerlan was and how he attacked his brother. There could have been some sort of effect.”
“And yet,” Justice Kagan said, “this court excluded evidence that Tamerlan led a crime that resulted in three murders?”
Justice Stephen G. Breyer agreed that the evidence was significant.
“It was his defense,” he said of Mr. Tsarnaev’s lawyers. “He had no other defense. They agreed that he was guilty. He had only one claim, don’t put me to death, because it’s my brother who was on the move.
But Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said he doubts the evidence is of much importance. “This evidence is at times inadmissible in a routine trial,” he said.
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Justice Amy Connie Barrett asked whether opposition to Mr Biden’s death penalty and Attorney General Merrick B. The case before judges was an empty exercise in light of Garland’s July stay on federal executions.
“I’m wondering what the government’s final game is here,” she told Mr Feigin. “So the government has put a moratorium on the execution, but you are here defending his death sentence. And if you win, presumably, that means he is charged with living under the threat of the death penalty.” which the government does not plan to implement. So I am having trouble following the point.”
Mr Feigin responded that the moratorium was in place to allow time for the government to review its policies and procedures in capital matters and that the jury’s sentencing decision should be respected.
As of July 2020, there had been no federal executions in 17 years. In the six months that followed, the Trump administration executed 13 prisoners, which is more than three times the number of death sentences carried out by the federal government in the previous six decades.
There was no dispute about Mr Tsarnaev’s guilt, Judge O’Rosary Thompson wrote for an appeals court panel last year. But, he adds, “One of the main promises of our criminal justice system is that even the worst of us deserve to be tried fairly and punished legally.
“Just to be clear,” Judge Thompson wrote, “Zokhar will remain confined to prison for the rest of his life, the only question being whether the government will end his life by executing him.”