In a state where the death penalty has not been used in nearly 70 years, the Obama administration might find adequately punishing Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev a little difficult.
Attorney General Eric Holder will have to decide months in advance of the trial whether to seek the death penalty, though he personally opposes it. It will be the most high-profile decision he has made.
While Massachusetts abolished its death penalty in 1984, Tsarnaev is being prosecuted in federal court. Only three people have been executed since the federal reinstatement of capital punishment in 1988, including Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
According to the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project, jury members impose twice as many life sentences as death sentences. In order to sentence a person to death, the jury’s vote must be unanimous.
"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?" said Aitan Goelman, who was part of the legal team that prosecuted Oklahoma City bombing figures.
U.S. attorney Michael Sullivan added that despite Massachusetts’s seemingly oppositional stance on capital punishment, some voters still support the act under certain circumstances in nonbinding referenda.
"I'm not suggesting there's strong interest in reinstating the death penalty in Massachusetts, but I think jurors in a federal case would be very thoughtful and under the right circumstances would vote in favor of the death penalty,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan added there would be a lot of push in the Boston district attorney’s office for the death penalty.