The Boston Marathon bomber could be put to death after all.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision Friday that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s execution can move forward, with all six conservative justices voting to reinstate the execution. It’s unclear when that might happen though, due to a federal moratorium on the death penalty issued by Attorney General Merrick Garland in July.
The order reverses a lower court decision in 2020, when a three-judge panel found that Tsarnaev’s 2015 trial didn’t adequately screen jurors and thus produced a group “biased by prejudicial publicity” and also excluded evidence that could have mitigated his fault in the massacre.
Tsarnaev was convicted in 2015 of 30 charges related to the 2013 terrorist attack, which killed three people and injured hundreds. He admitted to carrying out the Boston Marathon massacre when he was 19, along with his older brother, Tamerlan, who was killed in a shootout with police a few days after the bombing.
The Trump administration had originally asked the Supreme Court to review the case. President Joe Biden’s Department of Justice also urged the Supreme Court to reinstate Tsarnaev’s death sentence last year, even though he said during the 2020 campaign that use of the death penalty should end.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“Dzhokhar Tsarnaev committed heinous crimes,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his opinion. “The Sixth Amendment nonetheless guaranteed him a fair trial before an impartial jury. He received one.”
The court’s three liberals dissented, led by Justice Stephen Breyer, who will retire this summer when the Supreme Court’s current term ends. Breyer wrote that by the potentially mitigating evidence “may have led some jurors to conclude that Tamerlan’s influence was so pervasive that Dzhokhar did not deserve to die for any of the actions he took in connection with the bombings, even those taken outside of Tamerlan’s presence.”
“And it would have taken only one juror’s change of mind to have produced a sentence other than death, even if a severe one,” Breyer added.
Correction: The headline has been changed to reflect uncertainty about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s death sentence due to a federal moratorium on the death penalty.
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