Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Sentenced to Death

By Mark Wilson, Esq. on May 18, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Did you really think it was going to end differently? After weeks of testimony in the sentencing phase of convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the same federal jury that found him guilty April 30 sentenced him to death Friday for the bombing that killed three, and injured more than 240 others.

The jury reached a verdict after deliberating for only 14 hours -- just three hours more than it took them to find him guilty of all 30 counts with which he was charged.

A Basically Unanimous Verdict

The courtroom in Boston was tense as Judge George O'Toole Jr. read the 24-page verdict form. Before the jurors could actually impose the death penalty, they had to find true several foundational facts, including that Tsarnaev intentionally killed the three victims and that he "specifically engaged in an act of violence." All of these had to be found unanimously true, which they were.

The jury also found unanimously true the statutory aggravating factors, as well as all the non-statutory aggravating factors, except for a factor in which Tsarnaev was alleged to have encouraged others to commit acts of violence against the United States.

Aggravating Factors > Mitigating Factors

The mitigating factors, however, were the real insight into what the jury thought of the defense case. From the beginning, the defense acknowledged that Tsarnaev helped plant the bombs, but suggested throughout both the guilt and sentencing phases that he was the victim of his domineering older brother, Tamerlan.

The jury didn't think much of that theory; only three of the twelve jurors agreed that he "acted under the influence of his older brother" and that he was "particularly susceptible to his older brother's influence." While most of the jurors also acknowledged that Tsarnaev's friends and teachers believed him to be thoughtful and caring, the jury unanimously determined that the aggravating factors for six of the capital counts outweighed the mitigating factors, resulting in a death sentence.

Then Come the Appeals

Now, of course, the appeals begin. Actually, they won't start until the judgment is final, which will occur after Tsarnaev is formally sentenced, and that date hasn't been scheduled yet. Tsarnaev's chances of actually getting executed are somewhat slim; The New York Times observed that only three of 80 federal defendants sentenced to death since 1988 had actually been executed.

Tsarnaev, however, isn't the typical defendant whose case is caught up in appeals for years over DNA evidence or mental capacity. His defense attorney acknowledged that he did it; the identities of the bombers aren't in question, and neither is his mental capacity. Even so, it may be several years before Tsarnaev exhausts his appeals.

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