16 May 2015

Boston bomber death penalty 'a lengthy process'

4:33 pm on 16 May 2015

A US jury has sentenced Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death by lethal injection, but his execution may not happen for decades.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found guilty in April of all 30 charges that he faced, many of which carried the death penalty. Photo: AFP / FILE

Tsarnaev, a 21-year-old ethnic Chechen, was convicted last month of killing three people and injuring 264 others by detonating a pair of homemade pressure-cooker bombs, which he and brother placed at the race's crowded finish line in April 2013.

Tsarnaev is likely to be moved to a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, to await execution, but there could be years of appeals.

Capital punishment experts said because of the lengthy appellate process, an effective moratorium on federal executions and declining support among Americans for the death penalty, the 21-year-old may not be killed for very long time, if ever.

The United States Attorney for the district of Massachusetts, Carmen Ortiz, said while the jury's verdict is not an occasion for celebration, the case has highlighted the strengths of the American justice system.

Victims sobbed as the sentence was read, but Tsarnaev showed no emotion.

"Now he will go away and we will be able to move on. Justice. In his own words, 'an eye for an eye'," said bombing victim Sydney Corcoran, who nearly bled to death and whose mother lost both legs.

A makeshift memorial for victims near the site of the Boston Marathon bombings.

A makeshift memorial for victims near the site of the Boston Marathon bombings. Photo: AFP

After 14 hours of deliberations, the jury concluded that Tsarnaev showed no remorse and life in prison was not a fitting punishment.

Massachusetts as a state ended the death penalty in 1984, but Tsarnaev was tried on federal charges, meaning he was eligible for execution as a sentence.

After the sentence was announced, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch said: "The ultimate penalty is a fitting punishment for this horrific crime and we hope that the completion of this prosecution will bring some measure of closure to the victims and their families.''

But not all of the victims supported the death penalty for Tsarnaev.

The parents of Martin Richard, an eight-year-old boy killed in the blast, wrote an article in the Boston Globe last month asking the government to not seek a death sentence, as it would delay their emotional closure.

Appeals likely

The jury's decision does not mean death is imminent for Tsarnaev.

A judge will formally sentence him to die by lethal injection at a yet-to-be-scheduled hearing sometime in the next few months.

In the meantime, defence lawyers are likely to appeal against the sentence.

During the trial, Tsarnaev's defence team admitted that he had played a role in the attacks but said that his older brother, Tamerlan - shot dead by police in the subsequent manhunt - was the driving force.

Lawyers also highlighted his difficult early life. The Tsarnaevs - ethnic Chechens - had lived in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan and the volatile Dagestan region of Russia, near Chechnya. The family moved to the US in 2002.

But prosecutors argued that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was an equal partner in the attack, showing the jury a message he wrote on the boat where he was arrested.

"Stop killing our innocent people and we will stop," it read.

Throughout the trial, the jurors heard grisly testimony from bombing survivors. They described seeing their legs blown off or watching someone next to them die.

At the start of the penalty phase, the prosecutors showed jurors a photo of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev raising his middle finger to a jail cell security camera months after his arrest.

"This is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev - unconcerned, unrepentant and unchanged," prosecutor Nadine Pellegrin said.

- BBC / Reuters