Death For The Boston Bomb Suspect? Doubtful

by Diane Dimond on March 3, 2014

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Mugshot

If I were a betting woman I’d plunk down $10 right now and bet that suspected Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, will die in prison and not in an execution chamber.

Yes, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently announced the feds will seek the death penalty for Tsarnaev, but chances are the 19-year-old may never face the possibility of being put to death by the U.S. government.

Why do I say that? First, let’s review some facts.

Tsarnaev and his older brother Tamerlan, 26, are accused of planting powerful bombs at the Boston Marathon’s finish line, causing the deaths of three people and the wounding of more than 260 others.

The Bombs Unleashed Hell in the Streets

One of the dead was a police officer who was shot and killed during the ensuing manhunt for the brothers.

The older Tsarnaev was shot four days later during a final street confrontation with police. His death was hastened according to the official indictment after his wounded little brother ran over him while fleeing the scene in a stolen car.

Young Dzhokhar was found the next day hiding in a covered boat in the residential neighborhood of Watertown, Massachusetts, not far

Dzhokar At Moment of Capture

from the bombing site. Inside the boat he had scrawled a handwritten message saying in part, “The U.S. Government is killing our innocent civilians. I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished… We Muslims are one body, you hurt one you hurt us all.” The message ends with the confessional line, “Stop killing our innocent people and we will stop.”

As the evidence against the surviving brother has mounted — and been widely reported — it doesn’t seem that any jury would ever find him not guilty. But history shows Dzhokhar Tsarnaev might never face a jury.

According to the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel in almost half of federal death penalty cases over the last 25 years prosecutors ultimately withdrew the threat of death before trial.  Instead, they agreed to plea agreements that resulted in life in prison with no possibility of early release.

Last to be Executed by Feds: Timothy McVeigh

Further, since the federal death sentence was re-instated in 1988 seventy defendants have been sentenced to the death chamber but only three have actually been executed: Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh in June 2001, Juan Raul Garza eight days later and in March 2003, Louis Jones Jr. received a lethal injection courtesy of Uncle Sam. (For the record, the three convicted murderers were – in chronological order – White, Hispanic and Black.)

But let’s say prosecutors stick to their guns on the Boston bombing case, refuse to offer Tsarnaev a plea bargain and he actually goes on trial. I’m still not convinced he will get the death penalty.

Tsarnaev’s lead defense lawyer is none other than Judy Clarke who has been called, “A master strategist in death penalty cases” and one who has an unmatched track record of humanizing high-profile murder clients and keeping them off death row.

“Master Strategist” Attorney Judy Clarke

Among those for whom Clarke has life sentences instead of a date with the executioner: The Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski; the Atlanta Olympics bomber, Eric Rudolph; A September 11th co-conspirator, Zacarias Moussaoui and the young man who shot Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and killed six others, Jared Loughner.

Jurors don’t relish condemning to death defendants who were teenagers at the time of their crime because everyone knows teens often do stupid, impulsive things. Attorney Clark is sure to use both Tsarnaev’s young age (he turned 20 in custody) and his culturally different and turbulent upbringing to appeal for mercy.

The Tsarnaev family emigrated from Russia in 2002. Dzhokhar is the youngest of four children born to a patriarchal and religious family whose Muslim faith considers elders to be important authority figures that are followed without question.

The Late Tamerlan Tsarnaev

Using one of the oldest tricks in a criminal defense attorney’s briefcase Ms. Clarke will likely play on jurors sympathy by emphasizing that Dzhokhar’s actions were heavily influenced by his fractured family and his controlling, more radicalized older brother.

She will probably stress how Dzhokhar felt abandoned after being left, virtually alone, in the wake of his parent’s divorce. Both his father and mother moved back to Russia. The only one he had left to rely on was his older brother. Sob stories like these have actually been known to work when it comes time to sentence a defendant.

Another reason I doubt this young man will be condemned to execution has to do with the current public perception of capital punishment.

Nationally, the latest Gallup poll indicates, that public support for the death penalty continues to decline. Only about 60 percent of Americans support the idea these days. But in the state of Massachusetts — where any Tsarnaev trial is likely to be held — a Boston Globe poll conducted statewide last fall revealed only 33 percent of citizens wanted Tsarnaev to get the death penalty. 57 percent said he should be sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.

It is a fact that federal prosecutors don’t like to bring cases to court that aren’t a slam-dunk win. Another fact: it will be difficult to seat a death-penalty qualified jury in a state like Massachusetts. Once a potential juror says they cannot vote for capital punishment they are disqualified.

Boston AG Carmen Ortiz’s Team to Prosecute

Look, I may be all wet. The marathon attack was the most significant anti-American terrorist act on American soil since the tragedy on September 11th, a fact that is hard to dismiss. If there is a trial and if it is actually held in Boston and not moved to another jurisdiction, disfigured victims of the bombing may attend the proceedings to show the jury, first-hand, the damage done to them. The anti-death penalty trend of the past decade may snap at that point and Tsarnaev may, indeed, face the executioner’s needle.

But as I said at the outset, if I were a gambler I wouldn’t bet on it.


Diane Dimond March 3, 2014 at 10:51 pm

Facebook Friend Chad Perry Tate writes:

“Diane Dimond, I would much rather him get the needle, but as long as he will for sure die in prison, I’ll take it!”

Diane Dimond March 3, 2014 at 10:51 pm

Facebook Friend Kim Sunderlage writes:

“Waiting for the appeals, right? Not at the hands of other inmates.”

Diane Dimond March 3, 2014 at 10:52 pm

Facebook Friend Valerie Kuhn writes:

“Too bad. He should get the needle. I am not usually for the DP, but in this case I am.”

Diane Dimond March 4, 2014 at 1:50 pm

Twitter Pal junehanniman writes:

“@DiDimond Why are some “death penalty verdicts” carried out fairly quickly (Timothy McVeigh), and others die in prison, allowed to live ?”

Diane Dimond March 4, 2014 at 1:51 pm

Dear @junehanniman:

“Good Q! After SCOTUS denied 1 automatic appeal McVeigh chose 2 drop all further appeals. Guilty June 1997 – executed June 2001. McVeigh said he wanted to die. The state was all too eager to help fulfill his final wish.”

Diane Dimond March 4, 2014 at 1:52 pm

Twitter pal badwolf303 writes:

“@DiDimond Who is paying for Tsarnaev’s attorney ? How can he afford her?”

Diane Dimond March 4, 2014 at 2:01 pm

Dear Badwolf303 writes:

“Another good question! The taxpayers of Massachusetts are paying for Tsarnaev to have 3 public defenders. Clarke comes in from San Diego and no definitive word on whether she’s paid. She says she does this work because she’s anti-Death Penalty…not for $$. I found this:

” One tale often told by her colleagues: After South Carolina sought to ban payments to outside public defenders, following the (Susan) Smith case, Clarke returned the $82,944 fee a judge approved for her defense of Smith, asking that the funds be used to defend indigent defendants in other cases.”

Guess that tells you where Ms. Clarke’s head is. ~ DD

Diane Dimond March 5, 2014 at 1:21 pm

Facebook Friend Heather Martin-Wright writes:

“Diane Dimond can we warm up ol’ sparky?”

Diane Dimond March 5, 2014 at 1:22 pm

Facebook Friend Bill Voinovich writes:

“Maybe they could leave the cell door open….And SHOOT him when he sets foot outside the cell……..”

Diane Dimond March 5, 2014 at 1:23 pm

Facebook Friend Donnakay Church writes:

“I am not a strong supporter of the DP but this case fits the narrow criteria I have for it. I think he should be sentenced to death. He is young enough that he will live long enough for the sentence to be carried out.”

Diane Dimond March 5, 2014 at 1:24 pm

Facebook Friend Don McMillan writes:

“Hard for me to figure, Diane, given how whacked out our Justice System can be some times. And given the Liberal Jury Pool in the Boston area, still I think they will see the Gravity of this Crime and give whatever the maximum penalty is allowed. And keep in mind, Radical Islamists are here for the long haul and have no problem giving up their lives to bring chaos and havoc on Americans.”

Diane Dimond March 5, 2014 at 1:24 pm

Facebook Friend Andrew Richter writes:

“When they decided to try to break the human spirit, they probably shouldn’t have targeted a marathon.”

Diane Dimond March 5, 2014 at 1:26 pm

Facebook Friend Pat Melchionno writes:

“I don’t rally for DP either but sometimes an individual just plain warrants it: CT vs Petit, this recent one Texas vs #BrandonDaniel cop killer that his comments alone and sick fascination with #SandyHook, #BostonBombing and others Mass killings, I step aside for the jurors and hold the door open for “old sparky”.

During the #BostonBombing a Red Sox baseball game with 37K fans were in attendance 1/2 mile away. After the bombing in Boston and before they were caught the city and parameter was petrified who was responsible and I governor said to stay indoors with the doors locked.
As I sit and watch the news unfolding just 5 miles North of the city I did lock my doors and remember feeling fear wondering who was bombing our great city and who was the next target? But for the grace of God, running over his own brother while trying to escape FBI and Boston police, the brothers were prevented from their next target, all planned, all set, stolen car packed with more bombs, they were on their way to NYC. You decide, DP?”

Diane Dimond March 5, 2014 at 1:30 pm

Twitter Pal papabear0321 writes:

“@DiDimond My opinion is this kid was only a puppet for his older brother who already received the death penalty.”

Diane Dimond March 5, 2014 at 1:33 pm

Twitter Pal DetectiveJones7 writes:

“@DiDimond For the victims & families, I hope Feds get Tsarnaev the death penalty that he earned. Also hope Tsarnaev follows McVeighs example”

Diane Dimond March 8, 2014 at 12:55 pm

Huffington Post Reader Scott Bonn (DocBonn) writes:

” I completely agree with you, Diane, and by the way, I believe the same will be true for Jodi Arias–but for somewhat different reasons.

Diane Dimond March 8, 2014 at 12:56 pm

Huffington Post Reader Penny File (Penny_File) writes:

” Holder has been twice in contempt of Congress. zero action. Obama and Congress don’t care. The laws are quite clear, don’t expect them to be upheld by this Administration. “

A March 9, 2014 at 8:04 am

Honestly, I am okay with him not getting the death penalty.
His crimes were despicable and T spending the rest of his life in Solitary Confinement is good enough for me. Imagine: No visit from “mommy” who I’m sure is not welcome back here, he’s a healthy 19 year old who will live a long time. Americans don’t realize that it cost Americans more money to have people on death row. They are automatically granted Appeals. And who do you think is paying for his Attorney – speaking of Americans paying? I know his brother brain washed him but T knew right from wrong. He could have turned his brother in but didn’t.

A March 9, 2014 at 8:08 am

Ms. Dimond,
What about the Washington D.C. Shooter?
I’m drawing a blank.. His name?
He had the step son with him? Wasn’t that a Federal Case as well?

Diane Dimond March 10, 2014 at 12:29 pm

Yes, Mohammad and Malvo. Makes my point exactly. The younger man got life – not death. The older man has been executed.

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