Appeals Court: Judge who oversaw Tsarnaev case did not adequately screen jurors for potential biases

BOSTON (WHDH) - In their 224 page ruling, three federal appeals court judges ruled there were two mistakes made by the judge presiding over Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s trial in Boston.

They wrote, “A judge handing a case involving prejudicial pretrial publicity must elicit the kind and degree of each prospective juror’s exposure to the case or the parties if asked by counsel. But despite a diligent effort, the judge here did not meet the standard.”

That, in part, led the panel to overturn Tsarnaev’s death penalty sentence.

“I think everybody’s a little surprised,” 7EWS legal analyst Tom Hoopes said. “You know, you kind of figured it was sort of a slam dunk because everybody saw it happen, so many people got hurt or killed.”

Despite that, Hoopes said the judges clearly found problems with certain jurors and did not think the jury questioning went far enough to ensure a fair trial in the wake of the bombing’s impact on the area.

“It’s the judge, judges, who have the responsibility that if he’s going to die, they feel okay about it. That’s really what it kind of comes down to,” Hoopes said. “Whether you’re for the death penalty or against the death penalty if you’re going to kill him that everything was fair.”

Tsarnaev was convicted on 30 charges, including conspiracy and use of a weapon of mass destruction. The 1st Circuit upheld all but a few of the convictions.

The judges ruled that a second error was present in how the presiding judge interpreted the law during the trial.

They wrote:
“Navigating a complex and changing area of the law, the judge let stand three of Dzhokhar’s convictions for carrying a firearm during crimes of violence. The judge thought that each of the underlying offenses constituted a crime of violence. But with respect (and with the luxury of time that district judges rarely have), we believe the current state of the law propels us toward the opposite conclusion.”

Now, federal prosecutors will have to decide how they want to move forward with the case.

Hoopes said they have a few options. One being to accept the ruling and Tsarnaev will serve life in prison. The second option being to hold a new sentencing trial with a new jury.

Prosecutors also have the opportunity to appeal the ruling and take it all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Tsarnaev is going to stay in jail for life no matter what. The question is whether the government is going to be re-trying him on the penalty phase so they can kill him or are they going to back off and say no,” Hoopes said. “I think they’re either going to appeal it or they’re going to do, redo it.”

Tsarnaev’s attorneys released a statement later in the evening reading:

“We are grateful for the Court’s straightforward and fair decision: if the government wishes to put someone to death, it must make its case to a fairly selected jury that is provided all relevant information. The Court rightly acknowledges, as do we, the extraordinary harm done to the victims of the bombing. It is now up to the government to determine whether to put the victims and Boston through a second trial, or to allow closure to this terrible tragedy by permitting a sentence of life without the possibility of release.”

 

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