January 30, 2014
The Justice Department announced Thursday that it would seek the death penalty against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 20-year-old man whom prosecutors have accused of bombing the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring more than 200 others.
“The nature of the conduct at issue and the resultant harm compel this decision,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a short statement. The announcement ended months of speculation over the issue. Although Holder has said that he is personally opposed to the death penalty, the bombing was among the worst terrorist attacks in the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackings.
The decision sets the stage for the biggest federal capital murder case since Timothy McVeigh went on trial for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, who was killed in a shootout with police in April, constructed and set off homemade bombs near the finish line of the marathon, according to investigators. Tsarnaev faces multiple counts in the April 15 bombing and is also accused of killing a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer in the days after the attack.
The case is in its early stages, and prosecutors could yet use the threat of death to strike a plea bargain with the young man and avoid a lengthy trial with bombing victims taking the stand to recount the attack. Since 1964, the federal government has executed only three people, including McVeigh. The Tsarnaev brothers came to the United States in 2002 from the Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan.
Authorities have said Tamerlan Tsarnaev came under the influence of radical Islam and probably recruited his brother to help him with the bombing, a possible line of defense if the case goes to trial.
After the bombing, investigators said a friend linked the older brother to a gruesome triple homicide in Waltham, Mass. Ibragim Todashev, a mixed martial arts fighter, said the older brother was connected to the killings in which three men had their throats slashed. During a May interview in Florida, authorities said that Todashev attacked an FBI agent. The FBI agent shot and killed the Chechen American. The senior FBI official said the agent who killed Todashev was acting in self-defense and described it as a “clean shoot.” But the FBI has not made public the results of an internal review into the shooting or a larger review that examined the attack.