Ultimate penalty in bombing case

Ultimate penalty in bombing case

Federal prosecutors are in no mood for compromise in the Boston Marathon bombing case — at least not yet.

Two brothers allegedly killed three people and wounded more than 260 others by planting bombs last April near the finish line at the Boston Marathon. Now the U.S. Justice Department said it intends to seek the death penalty if the surviving brother is convicted.

Given the sickening nature of the crime, the Justice Department decision in this high-profile case is completely understandable, even laudable. However, it's still a long way to the execution chamber for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was 19 when he was arrested shortly after the bombings.

His 26-year-old brother and alleged co-conspirator, Tamerlin Tsarnaev, was killed in a shoot-out with police. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was severely wounded when he engaged officers in gunplay, but survived to face trial.

The big question, however, is whether a trial actually will take place. Authorities say they have collected a mountain of evidence linking the brothers to the bombings, including photographic evidence showing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev placing a backpack believed to be filled with explosives along the marathon route near the finish line.

Given the evidentiary realities and potential death penalty, defense lawyers can be expected to pursue an agreement that allows him to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence. That's how cases like this have played out in the past when the Justice Department has opted to seek the ultimate punishment.

If the case does go to trial, defense lawyers can be expected to argue that the plot was conceived by the older brother and that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's life should be spared because of the subordinate role he played.

At the same time, however, the facts indicate that the bombings were carefully planned and carried out, that the aim was to inflict maximum damage on large numbers of innocent people and that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has not shown any remorse for his actions.

Both Muslims, the Tsarnaevs indicated they were motivated by religious reasons to strike out at America, and they allegedly did so in a way that attracted worldwide attention.

It is unclear when the case might get to trial, but if and when it does, the proceedings will be immeasurably complicated by the legalities surrounding the death penalty. Nonetheless, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was correct when he said that "the nature of the conduct at issue and the resultant harm compel this decision."

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