WASHINGTON — Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect in the deadly Boston Marathon bombings, will face a possible death penalty if he is convicted in the first deadly terrorist assault in the U.S. since the Sept. 11 attacks, Attorney General Eric Holder announced Thursday.
Holder's long-anticipated decision comes more than nine months after the twin bombings were allegedly carried out by the 20-year-old defendant and his 26-year-old brother, Tamerlan. The assaults left three dead and wounded more than 260 others gathered near the finish of the iconic footrace. The elder brother was killed in a confrontation with police in the days after the bombing.
"After consideration of the relevant facts, the applicable regulations and the submissions made by the defendant's counsel, I have determined that the United States will seek the death penalty in this matter,'' Holder said Thursday. "The nature of the conduct at issue and the resultant harm compel this decision."
A trial date has not yet been set for Tsarnaev, who has been charged with 30 criminal counts.
In the government's formal notice of its intent to seek death, prosecutors alleged that Tsarnaev "committed the offense in an especially heinous, cruel and depraved manner in that it involved serious physical abuse.''
Authorities also cited Tsarnaev's alleged "betrayal of the United States.''
"Dzhokhar Tsarnaev received asylum from the United States; obtained citizenship and enjoyed the freedoms of a United States citizen; and then betrayed his allegiance to the United States by killing and maiming people in the United States,'' the eight-page court document states, referring to the Tsarnaev family's flight from Russia.
Prosecutors alleged that Tsarnaev has "demonstrated a lack of remorse'' related to the bombing and his alleged involvement in the murder of police officer Sean Collier while Tsarnaev and his brother were being sought for the attacks.
Although the death penalty has been authorized for about 500 federal suspects since the maximum punishment was reinstated in 1988, only three offenders have been executed during that time and none in the past decade. Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh marked the first federal execution in nearly 40 years when he was put to death by lethal injection in 2001.
While there is little dispute that the evidence against Tsarnaev is strong — there are photographs of the suspect allegedly planting explosives at the site of one of the bombings — there have been mixed views about whether he should be subjected to a possible death sentence.
Unless the case is moved, a Massachusetts jury would decide Tsarnaev's fate in a state long opposed to the death penalty. And in September, less than six months after the bombings, a poll commissioned by the Boston Globe found that 57% of Boston residents favored life in prison without parole in the event of conviction, while only 33% supported death.