WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court said on Monday that it would review an appeals court’s decision that threw out the death sentence of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was convicted of helping to carry out the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.
Last year, a three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in Boston, upheld Tsarnaev’s convictions on 27 counts. But the appeals court ruled that his death sentence should be overturned because the trial judge had not questioned jurors closely enough about their exposure to pretrial publicity and had excluded evidence concerning Tamerlan Tsarnaev, his older brother and accomplice.
“A core promise of our criminal justice system is that even the very worst among us deserves to be fairly tried and lawfully punished,” Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson wrote for the panel.
“Just to be crystal clear,” Thompson wrote, “Dzhokhar will remain confined to prison for the rest of his life, with the only question remaining being whether the government will end his life by executing him.”
After the appeals court ruling, lawyers for the federal government during the Trump administration urged the Supreme Court to hear the case.
The case presents President Joe Biden with an early test of his stated opposition to capital punishment. Were the administration to decide not to pursue the death penalty against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Supreme Court case would become moot.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, answered generally when asked about how Biden would approach the case.
“He has grave concerns about whether capital punishment as currently implemented is consistent with the values that are fundamental to our sense of justice and fairness,” Psaki said at a press briefing on Monday. “He has also expressed his horror at the events of that day and Tsarnaev’s actions.”
A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment.
The bombings, near the finish line of the marathon, killed three people and injured 260, many of them grievously. Seventeen people lost limbs. A law enforcement officer was killed as the brothers fled a few days later. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died in a shootout with police.