BOSTON – After Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was convicted in 2015, the family of the youngest victim urged prosecutors to abandon their bid for the death penalty, warning that years of appeals would only keep him in the spotlight and prolong their unthinkable suffering.
Five years later, the prospect of a new trial to decide whether Tsarnaev should be executed after an appeals court tossed the 27-year-old's death sentence has brought anger and anguish to a community in many ways still healing from the April 15, 2013, attack.
“What about the innocent lives that were taken that day? Where is their justice? How is this in any way fair for those families to be forced to endure the agony a second trial will bring?” Rebekah Gregory, whose left leg was amputated after it was severely injured in the blast, wrote on social media.
Federal prosecutors will likely appeal Friday's ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. But if the decision stands, prosecutors will face the difficult decision of asking victims to recount their trauma at another trial — where jurors could decide this time to reject the death penalty — or angering some by dropping their pursuit for capital punishment and agreeing to life in prison.
A three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the judge who oversaw Tsarnaev's case did not adequately screen jurors for bias and ordered a new penalty-phase trial to decide whether he should be put to death. The court upheld most of his convictions.
An attorney for Tsarnaev said Friday that “it is now up to the government to determine whether to put the victims and Boston through a second trial, or to allow closure to this terrible tragedy by permitting a sentence of life without the possibility of release."
The defense acknowledged at the outset of his trial that he and his older brother, Tamerlan, set off the two shrapnel-packed bombs near the finish line that killed three people and injured more than 260 others. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died in a gunbattle with police a few days after the bombing.
The U.S. attorney's office in Boston has not said how it will respond to the appeals court's ruling.