Appeals Court Vacates Boston Marathon Bomber Death Penalty
“Dzhokhar will remain confined to prison for the rest of his life, with the only question remaining being whether the government will end his life by executing him.”
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The Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit has vacated the death penalty against Boston Marathon Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, ordering a new penalty phase trial. The Court also reversed the underlying convictions on several relatively-minor gun possession counts.
It’s a long Opinion (pdf.). The introduction, fortunately, summarizes the ruling:
… Indicted on various charges arising from these ghastly events, Dzhokhar stood trial about two years later in a courthouse just miles from where the bombs went off. Through his lawyers, he conceded that he did everything the government alleged. But he insisted that Tamerlan was the radicalizing catalyst, essentially intimidating him into acting as he had. See 18 U.S.C. § 3592(a)(4) (providing that relative culpability is a mitigating factor relevant to the imposition of a death penalty). Apparently unconvinced, a jury convicted him of all charges and recommended a death sentence on several of the death-eligible counts — a sentence that the district judge imposed (among other sentences).
A core promise of our criminal-justice system is that even the very worst among us deserves to be fairly tried and lawfully punished — a point forcefully made by the then-U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts during a presser at the trial’s end.2 To help make that promise a reality, decisions long on our books say that a judge handling a case involving prejudicial pretrial publicity must elicit “the kind and degree” of each prospective juror’s “exposure to the case or the parties,” if asked by counsel, see Patriarca v. United States, 402 F.2d 314, 318 (1st Cir. 1968) — only then can the judge reliably assess whether a potential juror can ignore that publicity, as the law requires, see United States v. Vest, 842 F.2d 1319, 1332 (1st Cir. 1988).3 But despite a diligent effort, the judge here did not meet the standard set by Patriarca and its successors.
Another error forces us to act as well, this one involving the judge’s denial of Dzhokhar’s post-trial motion for judgments of acquittal. Navigating a complex and changing area of the law, the judge let stand three of Dzhokhar’s convictions for carrying a firearm during crimes of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). The judge thought that each of the underlying offenses constituted a crime of violence. But with respect (and with the luxury of time that district judges rarely have), we believe the current state of the law propels us toward the opposite conclusion.
The first error requires us to vacate Dzhokhar’s death sentences and the second compels us to reverse the three § 924(c) convictions. On remand, then, the district court must enter judgments of acquittal on the relevant § 924(c) charges, empanel a new jury, and preside over a new trial strictly limited to what penalty Dzhokhar should get on the death-eligible counts.4 And just to be crystal clear: Because we are affirming the convictions (excluding the three § 924(c) convictions) and the many life sentences imposed on those remaining counts (which Dzhokhar has not challenged), Dzhokhar will remain confined to prison for the rest of his life, with the only question remaining being whether the government will end his life by executing him.
The Opinion, of course, brings back a lot of bad and emotional memories of the bombing, and the subsequent lockdown of Boston and suburbs as police hunted for the Tsarnaev brothers, who killed a policeman during their flight.
We covered the events live, Explosions at Boston Marathon finish line and #BostonMarathon Bombing Updates.
I revisited the events on the 3rd Anniversary of the bombing, with links to all ours posts, video, and images, Boston Marathon Bombing – Three Patriots Days Later:
Monday is Patriots Day in Massachusetts, the third Monday in April on which the Boston Marathon is run. The holiday commemorates the Battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775.
Three Patriots Days ago, on April 15, 2013, Islamic terrorists bombed the Boston Marathon.
I don’t remember where I was when I first heard of it. But I do remember covering it.
Here is a look back.
Martin Richard: Boston Marathon bombings victim aged 8 was waiting to give father a hug at finish line http://t.co/oqb8f0AA2M
— I got your #Unity right here (@jtLOL) April 16, 2013
Some flowers left at a home in Dorchester where an 8 year old boy who was killed st Marathon, lived. #wbz pic.twitter.com/UBYaq2umA7
— Ben Parker (@radiobenparker) April 16, 2013
Couple just reunited. pic.twitter.com/R0kuf6zJYs
— Megan Johnson (@megansarahj) April 15, 2013
MIT officer Sean Collier, 26, of Somerville, was identified as the victim in last night’s shooting. pic.twitter.com/SkXloG4KmF
— Cambridge Chronicle (@cambridgechron) April 19, 2013
It’s worth remembering also that the media immediately tried to blame the bombing on “right wing” groups, Add Boston Marathon Bombing to pile of Failed Eliminationist Narratives.
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two obama judges and a reagan appointee ?
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