Justice Thomas for the 6-3 Majority: “Dzhokhar Tsarnaev committed heinous crimes. The Sixth Amendment nonetheless guaranteed him a fair trial before an impartial jury. He received one.”
The Boston Marathon Bombing took place almost 9 years ago, on April 15, 2013. It seems like it was yesterday.
We covered it live at the time, Explosions at Boston Marathon finish line:
The media immediately blamed right wing extremists and homegrown terror, which was false, Add Boston Marathon Bombing to pile of Failed Eliminationist Narratives.
The suspects were two Chechen immigrant brothers, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
We also covered the aftermath, including the manhunt for the perpetrators which had Boston and surroundings on lockdown for days. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed when Dzhokhar accidentally drove over him while trying to escape. Dzhokhar was captured alive, but not before they murdered a Somerville, MA, police officer, Sean Collier.
- Images and video of suspects in Boston Marathon Bombing
- Shootout with Boston Marathon Suspects — One dead, one on loose — developing
- Boston Marathon suspect manhunt underway – ongoing updates
- Boston Marathon Bombing Suspect Phoned Uncle Hours Before His Death
MIT officer Sean Collier, 26, of Somerville, was identified as the victim in last night’s shooting. pic.twitter.com/SkXloG4KmF
— Cambridge Chronicle (@cambridgechron) April 19, 2013
— Mayor Tom Menino (@mayortommenino) April 20, 2013
We also covered the trial of the surviving brother, his death sentence, and the overturning of the death sentence by the appeals court:
- BOSTON BOMBING VERDICT: Jury has decided Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s fate (UPDATE: GUILTY)
- Boston Marathon Bomber Sentenced to Death
- Appeals Court Vacates Boston Marathon Bomber Death Penalty
The Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit vacated the death penalty against Dzhokhar, ordering a new penalty phase trial. The Court also reversed the underlying convictions on several relatively-minor gun possession counts. It’s a long Opinion (pdf.).
Amy Howe at Scotusblog described the grounds on which the death sentence was overturned by the 1st Circuit, and the issues before the Supreme Court:
A jury convicted Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on all counts and sentenced him to death. But the 1st Circuit threw out his death sentences. It ruled that the trial judge should have asked all potential jurors what media coverage they had seen or heard about Tsarnaev’s case. It also held that the judge, during the sentencing phase of the trial, should not have excluded evidence that Tamerlan was involved in a separate, unsolved triple murder in 2011. Especially when Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s lawyers argued that he had been swayed by his brother to commit the crimes, the court of appeals said, the evidence of Tamerlan’s possible involvement in the 2011 triple murder was “highly probative of Tamerlan’s ability to influence his brother.”
The U.S. Supreme Court just reinstated the death penalty in a 6-3 decision by Justice Thomas, with Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan in dissent.
From Justice Thomas’ majority Opinion:
On April 15, 2013, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev planted and detonated two homemade pressure-cooker bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The blasts hurled nails and metal debris into the assembled crowd, killing three while maiming and wounding hundreds. Three days later, the brothers murdered a campus police officer, carjacked a graduate student, and fired on police who had located them in the stolen vehicle. Dzhokhar attempted to flee in the vehicle but inadvertently killed Tamerlan by running him over. Dzhokhar was soon arrested and indicted. A jury found Dzhokhar guilty of 30 federal crimes and recommended the death penalty for 6 of them. The District Court accordingly sentenced Dzhokhar to death. The Court of Appeals vacated the death sentence. We now reverse.
* * *
The District Court did not abuse its broad discretion by declining to ask about the content and extent of each juror’s media consumption regarding the bombings. The court recognized the significant pretrial publicity concerning the bombings, and reasonably concluded that the proposed media-content question was “unfocused,” risked producing “unmanageable data,” and would at best shed light on “preconceptions” that other questions already probed. App. 480–481. At voir dire, the court further explained that it did not want to be “too tied to a script” because “[e]very juror is different” and had to be “questioned in a way that [was] appropriate” to the juror’s earlier answers. Id., at 498. The court was concerned that a media-content question had “the wrong emphasis,” focusing on what a juror knew before coming to court, rather than on potential bias. Id., at 502. Based on “years” of trial experience, the court concluded that jurors who came in with some prior knowledge would still be able to act impartially and “hold the government to its proof.” Id., at 502–503. The District Court’s decision was reasonable and well within its discretion, as our precedents make clear. See Mu’Min, 500 U. S., at 427.
* * *
The Court of Appeals’ second reason for vacating Dzhokhar’s capital sentences—that the District Court erred in excluding from the sentencing proceedings evidence of the Waltham murders—fares no better….
Here, during sentencing, Dzhokhar sought to introduce evidence linking Tamerlan to the unsolved Waltham murders. He argued that the evidence supported his mitigation defense that Tamerlan was the ringleader. The District Court acknowledged Dzhokhar’s rationale but excluded the evidence because it was “without any probative value” and “would be confusing to the jury.” App. 650. See 18 U. S. C. §3593(c).
That conclusion was reasonable and not an abuse of the District Court’s discretion. Dzhokhar sought to divert the sentencing jury’s attention to a triple homicide that Tamerlan allegedly committed years prior, though there was no allegation that Dzhokhar had any role in that crime. Nor was there any way to confirm or verify the relevant facts, since all of the parties involved were dead….
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev committed heinous crimes. The Sixth Amendment nonetheless guaranteed him a fair trial before an impartial jury. He received one. The judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit is reversed.
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