A U.S. federal appeals court has overturned the death sentence of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, an ethnic Chechen and naturalized U.S. citizen convicted in a bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon that killed three people.
The First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston on July 31 ordered a new trial to determine what penalty Tsarnaev should receive, finding that the judge who oversaw the case did not sufficiently vet jurors for biases.
A federal jury found Tsarnaev, 27, guilty of all 30 counts he faced and sentenced him to death in 2015 just over two years after he and his older brother set off two homemade pressure-cooker bombs near the Boston Marathon's finish line on April 15, 2013. In addition to killing three people, the bombing injured more than 260 others.
Tsarnaev's brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, died in a gunbattle with police a few days after the bombings.
The appeals court in Boston issued its decision more than six months after arguments were heard in the case.
All three judges on the panel agreed that the death sentence should be overturned. But Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson, who wrote the opinion, noted that Tsarnaev “will spend his remaining days locked up in prison, with the only matter remaining being whether he will die by execution.”
Tsarnaev’s lawyers have argued repeatedly that it was impossible for their client to get a fair trial in Boston, where the terrorist attack took place. They pushed to move the trial out of the city, arguing the pervasive media coverage and the number of people touched by the attack would taint the jury pool.
The judge disagreed, saying he believed a fair and impartial jury could be found.
Tsarnaev’s lawyers also pointed to social-media posts from two jurors suggesting they harbored strong opinions even before the trial started.
Tsarnaev admitted at his sentencing that he and his brother were guilty and he apologized.
"I am sorry for the lives I have taken, for the suffering that I have caused you, for the damage I have done, irreparable damage," he said.
Tsarnaev currently is serving his sentence at a high-security prison in Florence, Colorado.
His lawyers acknowledged at the beginning of his trial that he and his brother set off the bombs but argued that Dzhokar Tsarnaev was less culpable than his brother, who they said was the mastermind behind the attack.
Prosecutors told jurors that the men carried out the attack to punish the United States for its wars in Muslim countries.
The mother of Krystle Campbell, who was killed in the attack, expressed outrage at the appeals court's decision.
“It’s just terrible that he’s allowed to live his life. It’s unfair. He didn’t wake up one morning and decide to do what he did. He planned it out. He did a vicious, ugly thing,” Patricia Campbell told The Boston Globe.
Former Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority officer Dic Donohue, who was severely injured in the gunfight with the brothers, said he had expected the ruling.
“In any case, he won’t be getting out and hasn’t been able to harm anyone since he was captured," he wrote on Twitter.
U.S. Appeals Court Overturns Boston Marathon Bomber's Death Sentence