U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement that he was
authorizing trial prosecutors to seek the death penalty against
Tsarnaev, who is charged with committing one of the largest attacks
on U.S. soil since September 11, 2001.
"The nature of the conduct at issue and the resultant harm compel
this decision," Holder said. Holder had faced a Friday deadline for
deciding whether to seek the death penalty as part of Tsarnaev's
upcoming trial in Boston.
Government prosecutors said in a filing with the U.S. District Court
in Boston that reasons for Holder's decision included that the
killings were premeditated, cruel and that Tsarnaev had shown a lack
"One way or another, based on the evidence, Tsarnaev will die in
prison," Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said. A trial date has
not yet been set for Tsarnaev, who has pleaded not guilty to the
Boston Mayor Martin Walsh reacted to Holder's announcement by saying
he supported "the process that brought him to this decision," adding
that his thoughts were with the victims of the bombing and their
"We stand together as one Boston in the face of evil and hatred," he
Prosecutors say that Tsarnaev, 20, and his 26-year-old brother
Tamerlan planted a pair of homemade pressure-cooker bombs at the
race's crowded finish line on April 15, 2013, killing three people — including an 8-year-old boy. The blast also wounded 264 others, many
of whom lost limbs.
Three nights later, the ethnic Chechen brothers killed a university
police officer and later engaged in a shootout with police that left
Tamerlan dead, prosecutors say. Dzhokhar was later found hiding in a
boat in which he scrawled several phrases, including "we Muslims are
one body, you hurt one you hurt us all", according to prosecutors.
Austin Sarat, Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at
Amherst College in Massachusetts, said the nature of the case
probably left the Justice Department little choice but to seek a
"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," he said. "I'm not surprised by this decision."
Tsarnaev's attorneys have argued against a possible death sentence,
in part because they claim he was following the lead of his older
brother. They have also accused the government of throwing up unfair
obstacles to hinder preparation of their client's defense, including
seeking to rush the start of trial and not sharing important
Tsarnaev's defense attorney Miriam Conrad declined to comment on
Holder's decision on Thursday.
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Holder has said that he is not a proponent of the death penalty
because he believes its value as a deterrent is questionable, but
since becoming attorney general in 2009, he has authorized
prosecutors to seek the death penalty in 36 cases, according to the
Legal experts said that if Tsarnaev is convicted, the jury would
ultimately decide whether to apply the death penalty or a lesser
sentence like life in prison.
CRITICISM FROM ACLU
Holder's decision immediately drew fire from the American Civil
Liberties Union of Massachusetts, which pointed out the case would
be prosecuted in a state that had scrapped the death penalty decades
A Boston Globe survey found last year that 57 percent of Boston
residents favored life in prison for Tsarnaev, if he is convicted,
with 33 percent in favor of execution.
"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
Only three people have been executed as the result of a federal
capital case since 1988, when the United States reinstated the
federal death penalty, including Oklahoma City federal building
bomber Timothy McVeigh in 2001.
"This development will ensure that many of the victims feel like
they are getting justice, but it will also extend and complicate the
prosecution and dramatically increase the cost to taxpayers," said
Steve Huggard, a former federal prosecutor who is now Boston-based
partner at Edwards Wildman.
"This case now could easily last a decade."
The blasts killed 8-year-old Martin Richard as well as Krystle
Campbell, 29, and Chinese national Lu Lingzi, 23. Tsarnaev is also
accused in the shooting death of Sean Collier, 27, the university
A spokesman for Richard's family said the family did not want to
comment. Efforts to reach the families of the other victims were not
A trial date for Tsarnaev has not yet been set.
(Additional reporting by Ross Kerber, Tim McLaughlin and Joan
Biskupic; editing by Howard Goller, James Dalgleish, G Crosse,
Bernard Orr, Tom Brown and Cynthia Osterman)
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