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Boston Bomber Tsarnaev Faces Death Penalty, Probably Won't Happen

Niki Hashemi |
January 30, 2014 | 4:40 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is set to face the death penalty in court (The Guardian).
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is set to face the death penalty in court (The Guardian).
At 2:50 pm on April 15, 2013, the whole country stopped when two bombs went off at the finish line of the Boston marathon. Now federal prosecutors want the death penalty for the teenager responsible, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, but history shows that probably won't happen.

The bombings claimed three victims and wounded more than 260 people. Law enforcement individuals and government agencies searched through hours of footage and on April 18, the FBI released two pictures of male suspects. 

The following night, authorities announced they had seized Dzhokhar Tsarnaev after he hid in a covered boat in Watertown, Massachusetts. The 19-year-old was charged with 30 federal counts and plead not guilty to all charges. Although Tsarnaev is being tried in a U.S. District Court in Boston, the state of Massachusetts abolished its own death penalty in 1984, so the jury pool would be coming form a state that rejects lethal injection.

In recent years, capital punishment has become a less popular option due to shortages in lethal injection chemicals and the decline in general public support. As a result, the death penalty has become rare and its application is often delayed for decades.

CBS News notes that in cases where federal juries have chosen between life and the capitol punishment, they have imposed twice as many life sentences as death sentences — 144 to 73 — according to the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project.

Here are some recent examples of terrorist cases where a death penalty sentence fell short:

3 Famous Terrorist Attack Plots and Trials:


(Victims of Fort Hood shooting/Creative commons, The Guardian)
(Victims of Fort Hood shooting/Creative commons, The Guardian)
2009 Fort Hood Shooting Rampage 


US Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, was sentenced to death for killing 13 people and wounding 39 others in a shooting rampage in Fort Hood, Texas. The Fort Hood Shooting Rampage was named the worst mass murder at a military base in U.S. history. The court believed that Hasan had carefully planned his attack while researching Jihad. He was also emailing an al_Qaeda figure asking about whether or not he would be a martyr. The appeals are expected to go on for decades and there is still no date set for his death sentence.


2009 Little Rock Recruiting Office Shooting

Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad opened fire from his truck at two soldiers standing outside a military recruiting station. Muhammad was charged with one count of capital murder and 15 counts of terrorist attacks. Since Muhammad pleaded guilty in the middle of his trial to capital murder, Muhammad was sentenced to life in prison without parole for capital murder. 




(Jewish Federation memorial/Creative Commons)
(Jewish Federation memorial/Creative Commons)
2006 Seattle Jewish Federation Shooting

Naveed Afzal Haq shot six women at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle because he was upset about the situation in Israel. Haq told the associated press “I am a Muslim American, angry at Israel” before he opened fire on the women. Haq was charged with nine felonies, one of which could bring the death penalty. The prosecutor however, did not charge the death penalty against Haq. He received life in prison.  

Although these cases are similar to the Boston bombing in 2013, Hasan was the only one who was sentenced to death. The date of his execution is still unknown and will probably not be determined for at least the next decade. The death sentence is a lengthy process that involves numerous appeals and much deliberation. As a result, many believe that life imprisonment is the better option.  

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center said, “Twenty years ago, use of the death penalty was increasing. Now it is declining by almost every measure.” The death penalty remains an accepted form of justice in 32 states; however, only 9 states used lethal injections in 2013. 

In the past 4 ½ years, the Justice Department has sought executions in a few cases, but none of the administration's cases has yet put anyone on death row.

The record low support for the death penalty have caused some legal analysts to question whether the Supreme Court will take another look at the constitutionality of the death penalty in the coming years, though there has been no indication the court will take up the matter. It is hard to say if Tsarnaev will receive the capitol punishment, or just serve life in jail.

Reach Staff Reporter Niki Hashemi here or follow her on Twitter



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