Boston, Massachusetts: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, bomber in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, gets death sentence overturned by judges on the 1st United States Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday, July 31st, 2020.
The three judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued the decision more than six months after arguments were heard in the case.
The bombing during the 2013 Boston Marathon killed three people and injured more than 260 others on April 15, 2013.
The appeals judges, in a hearing on the case in early December 2019, devoted a significant number of questions to the juror bias argument.
Prosecutors told jurors that the men carried out the attack to punish the United States for its wars in Muslim countries.
In the boat where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found hiding, he had scrawled a confession that referred to the wars and wrote, among other things, “Stop killing our innocent people and we will stop.”
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s attorneys identified a slew of issues with his trial, but said in a brief filed with the court that the “first fundamental error” was the judge’s refusal to move the case out of Boston.
They also pointed to social media posts from two jurors suggesting they harbored strong opinions even before the 2015 trial started.
The defense said the one juror had said in Twitter posts that that she was “locked down” with her family during the manhunt and retweeted another post calling Tsarnaev a “piece of garbage,” but later told the court she had not commented on the case or been asked to shelter in place.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s attorneys said on the day of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s sentencing, the juror changed her Facebook profile picture to an image that said “BOSTON STRONG,” a rallying cry used in the wake of the bombing.
Tsarnaev’s lawyers pushed several times to move the trial out of the city where the bombs exploded, arguing the intense media scrutiny and number of people touched by the attack in Boston would taint the jury pool, but U.S. District Judge George O’Toole refused, saying he believed a fair and impartial jury could be found in the city.
The 1st United States Circuit Court of Appeals said the “pervasive” media coverage featuring “bone-chilling still shots and videos” of the bombing and dayslong manhunt required the judge to run a jury selection process “sufficient to identify prejudice.”
But U.S. District Judge George O’Toole fell short, the judges found.
The judges said U.S. District Judge George O’Toole deemed jurors who had already formed the opinion that Tsarnaev was guilty qualified “because they answered ‘yes’ to the question whether they could decide this high-profile case based on the evidence” but he didn’t sufficiently dig into what jurors had read or heard about the case.
Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson wrote in the ruling, “But make no mistake: Dzhokhar will spend his remaining days locked up in prison, with the only matter remaining being whether he will die by execution.”
All three judges agreed that the death sentence should be tossed. In a concurring opinion, Judge Juan Torruella wrote that the case should never have been tried in Boston.
“If this case did not present a sufficient basis for a change of venue, there are no set of circumstances that will meet this standard, at least not in the First Circuit,” Judge Juan Torruella wrote.
Patricia Campbell, the mother of 29 year old Krystle Campbell who was killed in the bombing attack, expressed outrage at the court’s decision.
“I just don’t understand it. 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 newspaper.
United States President Donald Trump weighed in on the ruling during an address to supporters on the tarmac of Tampa International Airport.
“I see in Boston, where you have the animal that killed so many people during the Boston Marathon. They just sent this conviction for the death penalty back to the lower courts so they’ll argue about that for a long time. It’s ridiculous.”
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was convicted on 30 charges, including conspiracy and use of a weapon of mass destruction.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been serving his sentence in a high-security supermax prison in Colorado.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was killed in a gun battle with police days after the two brothers detonated two pressure cooker bombs near the marathon finish line.