The United States will seek the death penalty for accused
bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is charged with planting homemade
explosives devices that killed three people and wounded 264 at
the Boston Marathon last year, the government's chief
US 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 US soil since Sept. 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 US District
Court in Boston that reasons for Holder's decision included
that the killings were premeditated, cruel and that Tsarnaev
had shown a lack of remorse.
"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 charges.
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 families.
"We stand together as one Boston in the face of evil and
hatred," he said.
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 capital prosecution.
"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
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 evidence.
Tsarnaev's defense attorney Miriam Conrad declined to comment
on Holder's decision on Thursday.
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 Justice Department.
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 ago.
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 Massachusetts, said.
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
"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 police officer.
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 immediately successful.
A trial date for Tsarnaev has not yet been set.