Today U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder instructed federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 20-year-old former college student accused of bombing the 2013 Boston Marathon, which killed three people and injured over 260 others.
In addition to the charges associated with that crime, Tsarnaev also faces prosecution for the killing of an MIT campus police officer, a crime allegedly committed while he and his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, were trying to flee Boston.
In a statement released today, Holder said:
After consideration of the relevant facts, the applicable regulations and the submissions made by the defendant’s counsel, I have determined that the United States will seek the death penalty in this matter. The nature of the conduct at issue and the resultant harm compel this decision.
Tsarnaev is being tried in a federal court which means that he is able to receive the death penalty despite the fact that capital punishment has not been legal in Massachusetts since 1982.
In wake of Holder’s announcement, Massachusetts’ Democratic governor Deval Patrick released the following statement:
One way or another, based on the evidence, Tsarnaev will die in prison. In each milestone of this case — today’s announcement, the trial and every other significant step in the justice process — the people hurt by the Marathon bombings and the rest of us so shocked by it will relive that tragedy. The best we can do is remind each other that we are a stronger Commonwealth than ever, and that nothing can break that spirit.
Not everyone is thrilled by the decision on the part of Eric Holder. Many see this as the federal government overstepping its bounds and forcing the death penalty into a state that has outlawed it. The statement below, for example, was released by the ACLU of Massachusetts:
The ACLU is disappointed that Attorney General Holder has authorized prosecutors to seek the death penalty against Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The ACLU opposes the death penalty in all cases, because it is discriminatory and arbitrary, and because it inherently violates the Constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment.
In this case, it is important to keep in mind that the people of Massachusetts, through their elected representatives, have repeatedly rejected the death penalty. Even shortly after the horrible Boston Marathon bombing, a Boston Globe poll found that the people of Boston said two-to-one that they would prefer a sentence of life without parole for Tsarnaev, if he is convicted.
After the Marathon attack, this community rallied around the slogan “Boston Strong.” Even—and especially—in case like this, that means not letting terrorists or anyone else shake us from our values.
Tsarnaev’s next hearing will be held in the Boston federal courthouse on February 12. Tsarnaev has submitted a plea of “not guilty.”