Biden administration seeks death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber 

Boston Marathon bombings Mother and daughter at an April 21, 2013 candlelight vigil for those injured and killed at the Boston Marathon bombings | Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The Justice Department recently asked the Supreme Court to reinstate a death sentence for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for his role in the Boston Marathon bombings.

Tsarnaev’s death sentence had been handed down by federal jury a lower court, and the Justice Department is asking the Supreme Court to reinstate it, the Boston Globe reported Tuesday. The high court is scheduled to consider the death penalty for Tsarnaev in the fall, having granted certiorari to an appeal of a federal court ruling that vacated his death sentence.

While the Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations have now all pushed for the federal death penalty for Tsarnaev, the Boston archdiocese has instead called for life in prison without parole.

“The pain and suffering caused to the victims of the bombing and to their loved ones is as clear and real today as it was nearly eight years ago,” the archdiocese told CNA in May. “As we have previously stated, Catholic teaching does not support the taking of life as a means of achieving justice.”

As a candidate for president, Biden called for the elimination of the death penalty.  

Tsarnaev was convicted on four murder charges in 2015 for his role in the Boston Marathon bombings, which took place on April 15, 2013. The attack, committed alongside his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, killed three people and injured hundreds. 

Tsarnaev’s death sentence was overturned last year by the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which found the district court judge wrongly omitted evidence of Tamerlan committing a triple murder in 2011, and did not properly ensure the jury was free of bias amid near-constant media coverage of the case, the Globe reported. The First Circuit ruling sentenced Tsarnaev to life in prison without parole.

In the brief filed at the Supreme Court, lawyers for the Department of Justice argued Tsarnaev’s role in the attack necessitated the original death sentence he was given, which they said should be reinstated.

The lawyers argued that a jury “carefully considered” each of Tsarnaev’s crimes and found that “capital punishment was warranted for the horrors that he personally inflicted,” noting that one of his victims was a child. 

“That determination by 12 conscientious jurors deserves respect and reinstatement by this Court,” the brief stated. 

Biden, the second baptized Catholic to hold the office of president of the United States, is publicly opposed to the death penalty. His campaign said he would work to pass legislation to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level, and take steps to incentivize states to follow suit. 

A spokesperson for the White House did not immediately respond to CNA’s request for comment. 

The U.S. bishops’ conference opposed the Trump administration’s decision to resume federal executions after a 17-year moratorium. The conference said in an August 2020 statement that “the Church’s opposition to the death penalty is clear.”

“Remembering the Lord’s call for mercy, we renew our plea: stop these executions!” the bishops said at the time. 

In August of last year, after then-President Donald Trump expressed support for executing Tsarnaev, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston told CNA that “Catholic teaching does not support the taking of life as a means of achieving justice.” 

In May, the archdiocese stated that “the incomprehensible suffering of so many caused by this heinous crime should appropriately be met with a sentence of imprisonment for life with no possibility of parole.”

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