U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that he will seek the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (20), suspect in the April 15 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, in which three were killed and 264 injured.
In a statement Mr. Holder, who is said to personally not support capital punishment although he has authorised its use in the past, said, “After consideration of the relevant facts, the applicable regulations and the submissions made by the defendant’s counsel, I have determined that the U.S. will seek the death penalty in this matter.”
The Attorney General added, “The nature of the conduct at issue and the resultant harm compel this decision.”
The bombing, which represented the first ‘successful’ terror attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, was followed by a dramatic manhunt by local and federal law enforcement in Boston and its suburbs, leading to the capture of the younger Tsarnaev brother and the killing of his older sibling Tamerlan.
On April 22 2013 Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was charged with using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death and with malicious destruction of property resulting in death. He faces a total of 30 separate counts, of which 17 are said to carry the death penalty.
Although the crime carries a capital sentence, only three people are said to have been executed by the U.S. government since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988, and in approximately half of all such cases, federal prosecutors “eventually withdraw the threat of capital punishment before trial, more often than not as part of a plea deal.”
David Coleman Headley, alleged mastermind of the Mumbai terror attacks was one such case. He has successfully avoided the death penalty under a plea bargain with the U.S. even though the Mumbai strike for which he was said to have done reconnaissance work, resulted in the killing of 164 people and the wounding of at least 308.
Further, as noted by Slate magazine, Mr. Tsarnaev’s odds of escaping the death penalty are favourable given that he is being defended by Judy Clarke, the defence lawyer who has kept several “high-profile public enemies off of death row,” including Susan Smith, who drowned her two children in 1994; the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski; Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph; and most recently Arizona shooting suspect Jared Loughner.
The announcement of the prosecution’s intention to seek the death penalty comes in the wake of a sharp debate on whether the use of the lethal injection constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment,” particularly after the case of multiple prisons across U.S. states began grappling with lethal drug shortages and have been accused of using “experimental” procedures.
Most recently Ohio inmate Dennis McGuire (53) visibly gasped for air and snorted as it took approximately 25 minutes for him to die under a new lethal injection protocol followed by the state, entailing the use of previously untested drugs.
Another inmate, Michael Wilson, who was executed using pentobarbital at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary for a murder 20 years ago, gasped his final words, “I feel my whole body burning.”
Many U.S. states with capital punishment have had to turn to lethal drugs such as pentobarbital after the main sedative used traditionally, sodium thiopental became unavailable due to its sole manufacturer, a company called Hospira, halting production in 2010.
In the Tsarnaev case a Boston Globe poll conducted last September suggested that 57 per cent of Boston residents wanted him to get a sentence of life without the possibility of parole, whereas 33 per cent preferred to see him receive the death penalty.