If convicted, will Dzhokhar Tsarnaev be put to death by lethal injection? That is a question that federal prosecutors are now contemplating.
The government will likely take its time to decide whether or not to pursue the death penalty against the 19 year-old, who is allegedly responsible for the terrorist attacks on April 15 at the Boston Marathon that resulted in the wrongful deaths of 3 people.
Experts say that it may not be until the summer of 2014 until prosecutors make their final decision on whether or not to seek the death penalty against Tsarnaev. The decision process is apparently extremely complicated.
Eric Holder, the US Attorney General, will have the ultimate say in the prosecution’s strategy, which is currently being run by US Attorney Carmen Ortiz in Massachusetts.
Legal experts say that the determination is complicated. There has been increased political pressure on prosecutors to seek capital punishment against Tsarnaev due to the horrific and cold-blooded nature of the teen’s crimes. There are also the hundreds of victims who suffered gruesome personal injuries. Senators Charles Schumer and Dianne Feinstein, both Democrats, have both come out in support of the death penalty against Tsarnaev.
However, the state of Massachusetts, where Tsarnaev’s crimes were carried out, does not carry the death penalty as a punishment. A local federal jury may, therefore, be reluctant to issue such a punishment. Massachusetts outlawed the practice in 1984, but legislators moved recently to reinstate the penalty. The recent push was bolstered by the terrorist attack.
Complicating the process is Tsarnaev’s defense team, which is likely to request time to gather evidence relating to factors that may mitigate against such a penalty. This process is expected to last several months. They will then present their case as to why Tsarnaev should not be a candidate for capital punishment.
The prosecution may also use the death penalty as a bargaining chip in plea negotiations, offering to drop the death penalty in exchange for a guilty plea. This tactic, however, may prove alienating to the victims and their families, some of whom reportedly want Tsarnaev to “get what he deserves.”
Experts say that even if the prosecution elects to pursue the death penalty, success is not a foregone conclusion. Prosecutors sought the death penalty against the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, who ended up pleading guilty to all federal charges in exchange for dropping capital punishment. Likewise, the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bomber, Eric Rudolph, avoided the death penalty by pleading guilty.
Since the federal death penalty was reintroduced in 1988, only three criminals have been executed. Most notably, the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, was executed under the federal death penalty in 2001.
Even if convicted under the federal death penalty provision, Tsarnaev would have to be executed in another state, as Massachusetts has outlawed capital punishment.
The death penalty question looms large for US prosecutors, but it will likely be some time before their position becomes clear on how they will proceed against Tsarnaev.
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