Saturday 21 April 2018

Boston bomber's trial turns to sentencing

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Credit: REUTERS/US Attorney's Office
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Credit: REUTERS/US Attorney's Office

Scott Malone

Convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is set to return to court on Tuesday for the next phase of his trial, when prosecutors will argue that he should be sentenced to death for his role in the deadly attack in 2013.

In sharp contrast to the guilt phase of the trial, when lawyers for the ethnic Chechen defendant did not contest that their client had killed three people and injured 264 in the bombing, the next four weeks are expected to feature emotional testimony from both sides as Tsarnaev fights for his life.

The question of whether Tsarnaev (21) should live or die is highly controversial around Boston.

Read More: High security for Boston Marathon as bombing trial pauses

Polls have shown that a plurality of area residents, 49pc, prefer a life sentence, and family members of two of the people he killed have also spoken out against executing him.

Citing Al Qaeda materials found on Tsarnaev's computers, and a note suggesting the April 15, 2013 attack was an act of retribution for US military campaigns in Muslim-dominated nations, prosecutors contend Tsarnaev wanted to "punish America" in an attack that showed a callous disregard for human life.

Read More: Boston marks somber second anniversary of deadly marathon bombing

Defense attorneys have tried to paint Tsarnaev, who immigrated from Russia a decade before the attack, as adrift and under the influence of his older brother, 26-year-old Tamerlan, who died following a gunfight with police hours after the pair shot dead an officer.

Neither prosecutors nor defense lawyers have said publicly who they will call as witnesses during the trial's next phase. 

One thing that Tsarnaev has going for him is that very few people are executed on federal charges in the United States.

Just three out of 74 people sentenced to death since the reinstatement of the death penalty for federal crimes in 1988 have been executed, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Read More: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev found guilty in Boston Marathon bombings trial

The three were Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, drug trafficker Juan Raul Garza and Louis Jones Jr., a Gulf War veteran convicted of raping and murdering a female soldier in 1995.

Carried out between June 2001 and March 2003, those are the only federal executions the United States has seen in the past half a century.

While McVeigh was also found guilty of terror-related charges, others who were convicted of politically motivated violence have been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

They include Zacarias Moussaoui, one of the conspirators in the Sept 11 attacks, and shoe-bomber Richard Reid.

Moussaoui and Reid are serving their sentences at the federal "Supermax" prison in Florence, Colorado, where Tsarnaev will likely be sent if sentenced to life rather than death.


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