U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has authorized federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty for accused Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
The two pressure cooker bombs Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev allegedly planted near the Boston Marathon finish line on April 15 killed three people and wounded more than 260. Some of the survivors lost limbs. Because the attack was so devastating, many expected Holder to push for the most extreme penalty.
“The nature of the conduct at issue and the resultant harm compel this decision,” Holder said in a statement.
Even so, the government may not actually expect to execute the 20-year-old defendant.
Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty to the 30 charges against him. Prosecutors could use the possibility of an execution to persuade Tsarnaev to plead guilty in exchange for life in prison.
Since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988, only three of the 70 people sentenced to die by federal courts have been executed. Fifty-nine people remain on death row, while eight have escaped execution by judicial or executive order.
The Tsarnaev brothers are accused of plotting the marathon bombing as retaliation for U.S. military action in Muslim countries. The men, both Chechen immigrants, lived in the Boston area for about 10 years. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died during a shootout with police four days after the explosions. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev escaped but was captured 24 hours later.
According to officials, while holed up in the dry-docked boat where police eventually caught up with him, Tsarnaev wrote slogans giving clues about his motivation: “The U.S. government is killing our innocent civilians,” “I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished,” and “We Muslims are one body, you hurt one you hurt us all.”