Prosecutors Seek Death Penalty for Indicted Boston Marathon Bomber

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev could face the death penalty in the federal case, even though Boston scrapped capital punishment years ago. 

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Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

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Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the young man charged with planting the bombs at the Boston Marathon last year in a devastating attack that killed three people and injured nearly 300 others, should be put to death if found guilty, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday, according to Reuters.

Holder has officially authorized federal trial prosecutors to pursue the death penalty against 20-year-old Tsarnaev in the April 2013 attacks. "The nature of the conduct at issue and the resultant harm compel this decision," Holder said.

American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts quickly responded, according to Reuters, saying that Holder’s decision undermined the wishes of the people of the state, which did away with the death penalty in cases under its jurisdiction long ago. "I wish federal officials would have respected the clear wishes of the people of Massachusetts, who were on the front lines in this tragic event," Carol Rose, the executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, told Reuters.

According to the news site, a survey by the Boston Globe showed that last year, 57 percent of the city’s residents wanted Tsarnaev to receive life in prison if convicted. Only 33 percent were in favor of his execution.

A professor of jurisprudence and political science at Amherst College in Massachusetts told Reuters that the Department of Justice probably had no other choice but to seek the most extreme form of punishment, given the very nature of the situation. "If the harm is unusual, if the harm is dramatic, gruesome and devastating, it is often very hard for any other factor to outweigh it," Austin Sarat said. "I'm not surprised by this decision."

Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and his lawyers are hoping to dissuade prosecution from pursuing a death sentence, saying that the young man was led on by his older brother, 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who died in a shootout with police three days after the bombings. 

The defense has also accused the government of hindering preparation of its client’s case by rushing the start of the trial and not sharing key evidence, among other things.

Read more at Reuters.