U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told lawmakers today that he would decide by Friday whether prosecutors will pursue the death penalty for suspected Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokar Tsarnaev. Holder made the announcement during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
Tsarnaev is facing 30 federal charges for his involvement in planning and executing the Boston Marathon Bombing on April 15, 2013. The detonation of two homemade pressure cooker bombs on that day killed three marathon spectators and injured an additional 250. Tsarnaev has formally pleaded not guilty to all 30 of the charges.
Tsarnaev is the only living suspect in the Marathon bombing. His brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was killed by police during the highly televised manhunt that followed the bombing.
Massachusetts abolished the death penalty in 1984, but Tsarnaev is being prosecuted in a federal court. Since the federal government reinstated the death penalty in 1988, only three people have been executed. One of these people is Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
Aitan D. Goelman was part of the legal team that prosecuted McVeigh in 1997. He recently weighed on what he thinks the federal government should do regarding Tsarnaev.
"If you have the death penalty and don't use it in this kind of case where someone puts bombs down in crowds of civilians, then in what kind of case do you use it?” he said.
Even if prosecutors pursue the death pentalty and Tsarnaev is convicted of his crimes, an execution is far from certain. In accordance with federal law, all jurors ruling on the case must not only find him guilty but must also be in favor of an execution. If even one juror opposes an execution, Tsarnaev will likely be punished with a life sentence in prison.
We’ll update you on Holder’s decision on Friday.