A US jury on Friday sentenced Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death for setting off bombs that killed three people and injured 264 at the iconic Boston Marathon in 2013, along with his brother.
Dzhokhar sat stone-faced in court as the sentence was read. The federal jury chose death by lethal injection for the 21-year-old over its only other option: life in prison without possibility of release.
The bombing was one of the highest-profile attacks on US soil since September 11, 2001.
The same jury had last month found the ethnic Chechen guilty of placing a pair of homemade pressure-cooker bombs at the race’s crowded finish line on April 15, 2013.
While on the run, the elder Tsarnaev killed a police officer sitting in his car. He died in an exchange of fire with police. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found hiding in a boat.
Prosecutors described Dzhokhar as an adherent of al Qaeda’s militant Islamist views who carried out the attack as an act of retribution for US military campaigns in Muslim-dominated countries.
This was the first death penalty awarded in a case of terrorism post-9/11, The New York Times said, citing a government body that coordinates defense in death sentence cases.
Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the 9/11 mastermind, is going on trial early next month in a military court at the US naval base on Guantanamo Bay, where he has been held since capture.
A protestor from Veterans for Peace waits outside the Moakley Federal Court in Boston. (AP Photo)
The Tsarnaev brothers came to the United States in 2002 with their family form the Russian caucuses. The family didn’t adjust well at all, and soon fell apart.
Tamerlan, who was interested in boxing, drifted toward extremism and went to Dagestan to join up with a radical group, but returned home and became known for extreme views.
Dzhokhar, on the other hand, adjusted well and friends described him an average American youngster, and took to wrestling. He became captain of the school team.
Prosecutors described him as a cold-blooded, unrepentant jihadist. They opened the penalty phase of the trial with a picture of him giving the middle finger to the prison camera.
News channel ran an earlier video clip of him shopping for milk at a grocery store, immediately after setting off the the deadly bombs that left a trail of dead and injured innocents.
Dzhokhar himself remained a stoic, silent presence throughout the trial, and did not testify in his own defence. He showed emotion only once, when his 64-year-old aunt, Patimat Suleimanova, who had travelled from Russia to testify, broke down in tears on the witness stand upon seeing her nephew. She was unable to compose herself and was excused.
Death not imminent
The jury’s decision does not mean that death is imminent for the former high school wrestler. US district judge George O’Toole will formally sentence Dzhokhar to death at a yet-to-be-scheduled hearing sometime in the next few months. Defence attorneys are likely to appeal the decision.
The death penalty remains highly controversial in Massachusetts, which has not put anyone to death in almost 70 years and abolished capital punishment for state crimes in 1984. Dzhokhar was tried under federal law, which allows for lethal injection as a punishment.
Just three of the 74 people sentenced to death in the United States for federal crimes since 1988 have been executed. The first was Timothy McVeigh, put to death in June 2001 for killing 168 people in his 1995 attack on the federal government office building in Oklahoma City.
Other people convicted of attacks labelled as terrorist by the US government, including 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and shoe-bomber Richard Reid, drew life prison sentences.