WASHINGTON: The United States is to seek a rare federal death penalty for the surviving young student accused of the Boston marathon bombings, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Attorney General Eric Holder said on Thursday (Friday in Manila).
Three people were killed and around 260 wounded on April 15 last year when two bombs made of explosives-packed pressure cookers exploded near the finish line of the Boston marathon.
Tsarnaev, then 19, and his 26-year-old brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev were cornered by police after a four-day manhunt. Tamerlan died after an exchange of fire with police and Dzhokhar was wounded.
“The nature of the conduct at issue and the resultant harm compel this decision,” Holder said in a statement on the prosecution of the 20-year-old, a US citizen from a Chechen Muslim family.
The shaggy-haired onetime student has pleaded not guilty to 30 federal charges related to the bombings, including 17 serious charges that can carry sentences of death or of life in prison.
These charges include using a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death, as well as conspiracy and bombing of a place of public use resulting in death, and carjacking.
Tsarnaev is also charged in connection with the shooting death of a campus police officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology during the brothers’ wild overnight getaway attempt.
The brothers are said to have built the bombs with help from an online Al-Qaeda magazine, but they are not accused of having received help from any organized foreign terror group.
Carmen Ortiz, a federal prosecutor in Massachusetts, home to Boston, said in a statement: “We support this decision and the trial team is prepared to move forward with the prosecution.”
She added: “The case will now continue to proceed through the pre-trial process and the next scheduled court event is a status conference set for February 12, 2014.”
The full trial is likely to begin in the autumn and is expected to take about five months.
Massachusetts abolished the death penalty in 1982, but Tsarnaev is accused under federal law.
Of nearly 500 death sentences sought at federal level, only 70 were handed down and there have been only three actual executions since the reinstatement of the federal death penalty in 1988.
If Tsarnaev is executed, he will be the first defendant to be be put to death at federal level since Timothy McVeigh, who went to the death chamber in June 2001 for the Oklahoma City bombing.
Richard Dieter, director of the non-profit Death Penalty Information Center, said it was not certain Tsarnaev would be executed, if found guilty.
“It’s just an option on the table,” he told Agence France-Presse. “There are many more steps to go in this process.”
Judy Clarke, a renowned lawyer and specialist on the death penalty who has saved several high-profile convicts from the gallows, is representing Tsarnaev.
She will fight hard, Alan Dershowitz, a professor of law at Harvard, said recently.
Their client “wants to live and he wants to avoid execution, they are not going to say, ‘I want to die, I want to join my brother.'”