In a 48-page brief filed Monday, the DOJ argued that a court of appeals erred in vacating the death penalty over the trial court’s failure to have prospective jurors asked about the specifics of what news reports they had seen about the case, and the refusal to allow what the defense believed would be mitigating evidence related to the role Tsarnaev’s brother may have played in a separate triple-murder case.
“The court of appeals improperly vacated the capital sentences recommended by the jury in one of the most important terrorism prosecutions in our nation’s history,” the DOJ said in their brief. “This court should reverse the decision below and put this case back on track toward a just conclusion.”
The DOJ said the jury selection process was thorough, with questions about media exposure, and that there was no requirement to ask every single person detailed questions about what specifically they had seen.
In addition to the question over jury selection, at issue is the district court’s decision not to allow evidence related to a triple-murder in Waltham, Massachusetts, for which Tsarnaev’s brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev had been accused of being involved. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s legal team had claimed that he had been under Tamerlan’s influence, and feared for his own life because of his brother’s actions in the Waltham slayings. A friend of the older brother, Ibragim Todashev, had implicated himself and Tamerlan in the murders.
The district court ultimately believed that there was no way to tell whether Tamerlan Tsarnaev or Todashev was the primary actor in the Waltham murders, and the information would simply be too confusing to the jury without providing real value.
FILE – This file photo released April 19, 2013, by the Federal Bureau of Investigation shows Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, convicted and sentenced to death for carrying out the April 15, 2013, Boston Marathon bombing attack that killed three people and injured more than 260. (FBI via AP, File) (FBI)
The DOJ called the court of appeals’ ruling “an unwarranted usurpation of the district judge’s sound discretion.”
The DOJ’s push to reinstate the death penalty in this case began during the Trump administration. President Biden, after winning November’s election, said he opposed federal executions.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates told Fox News that the president’s stance on the issue has not changed, but that the DOJ “has independence regarding such decisions.” Bates said that Biden “has made clear that he has deep concerns about whether capital punishment is consistent with the values that are fundamental to our sense of justice and fairness.
Bates noted that from 2003 to 2020 the Justice Department had not carried out any executions, only for that to change late in the Trump administration.
“The President believes the Department should return to its prior practice, and not carry out executions,” he said.