The U.S. Justice Department has urged the Supreme Court to reinstate the death sentence of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, convicted in the deadly 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, despite President Joe Biden’s stated opposition to capital punishment.
The department in a 48-page brief filed late on Monday argued that a lower court wrongly overturned Tsarnaev’s death sentence and ordered a new trial to determine what sentence he deserved for carrying out with his older brother the attack that killed three people and wounded more than 260 others.
The filing marked the latest deviation between the policy views of Biden, a Democrat who has said he wants to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level, and the Justice Department, whose independence he has vowed to promote.
“The jury carefully considered each of respondent’s crimes and determined that capital punishment was warranted for the horrors that he personally inflicted,” Acting Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar said in the Justice Department’s brief.
White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said the Justice Department “has independence regarding such decisions,” but added that Biden believes the federal government should not carry out executions.
“President Biden has made clear that he has deep concerns about whether capital punishment is consistent with the values that are fundamental to our sense of justice and fairness,” Bates added.
In overturning Tsarnaev’s death sentence, the Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in July 2020 ruled that the trial judge “fell short” in screening jurors for potential bias following pervasive news coverage of the bombing. It ordered a new trial over the sentence he should receive for the death penalty-eligible crimes for which he was convicted.
Tsarnaev is a Kyrgyzstan-born U.S. citizen.
David Patton, Tsarnaev’s lawyer, has argued that the U.S. government should allow his client to serve life in prison. Patton did not respond to a request for comment.
The Justice Department under Republican former President Donald Trump initiated the government’s appeal of the 1st Circuit ruling, and the Supreme Court in March agreed to take up the case. It will hear arguments and issue a ruling in its next term, which starts in October and ends in June 2022.
Tsarnaev, now 27, and his brother, Tamerlan, precipitated five days of panic in Boston when they detonated two homemade pressure-cooker bombs at the marathon’s finish line on April 15, 2013 – tearing through the packed crowd and causing many people to lose legs – and then tried to flee the city.
In the following days, they also killed a police officer, Sean Collier. Tsarnaev’s brother died after a gunfight with police.
Jurors in 2015 found Tsarnaev guilty of all 30 counts he faced and later determined he deserved execution for a bomb he planted that killed Martin Richard, 8, and Chinese exchange student Lingzi Lu, 23. Restaurant manager Krystle Campbell, 29, was also killed.