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Boston Marathon bombing victims split on death penalty in US Supreme Court case

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s fate will be decided by the US Supreme Court today. — Reuters pic

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BOSTON, Oct 10 — Liz Norden and Mikey Borgard both suffered when two bombs exploded at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, sending shrapnel through a crowd of hundreds of people. Norden’s two adult sons lost their right legs. Borgard sustained hearing loss and a brain injury.

Yet they and others affected by the attack that killed three people and wounded 264 more disagree about whether convicted bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be executed – a question the US Supreme Court will consider today when the justices hear the US government’s bid to reinstate his death sentence.

“I know a lot of people didn’t him want to get the death penalty for their own reasons,” said Norden, who sat through the three-month 2015 trial. “Everybody’s entitled to their own thing. But for me, I wanted it.”

Borgard, who also attended the trial, is against executions of anyone.

“I think it’s easy for folks to say that they’re anti-death penalty, until something happens to them,” he said. “But I was never pro-death penalty in this case.”

The Supreme Court is set to hear the federal government’s appeal of a lower court ruling overturning Tsarnaev’s death sentence and requiring a new trial to determine whether he should get life in prison instead.

Two ethnic Chechen brothers carried out one of the most shocking attacks on US soil since Sept. 11, 2001.

Tsarnaev, who is 28 now and was 19 at the time, and his older brother Tamerlan detonated two homemade pressure-cooker bombs at the marathon’s finish line on April 15, 2013. Those killed were Chinese exchange student Lingzi Lu, 23; restaurant manager Krystle Campbell, 29; and Martin Richard, 8.

After four days in hiding in the Boston area, the brothers tried to flee, killing Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died after a gunfight with police that ended when his younger brother ran him over with a stolen car.

Jurors in 2015 found Dzhokhar Tsarnaev guilty counts he faced and later determined he deserved execution for a bomb he planted that killed Lu and Richard.

A reversal

The Boston-based 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals last year ruled that the trial judge “fell short” in screening jurors for potential bias following pervasive news coverage of the bombing and ordered a new death-penalty phase trial.

The 1st Circuit stressed that even if he is not executed Tsarnaev would remain in prison the rest of his life. He is incarcerated at the “Supermax” federal prison in Florence, Colorado.

The Justice Department launched its appeal during Republican former President Donald Trump’s administration and continued it after Democrat Joe Biden took office even though Biden opposes the federal government’s use of the death penalty.

Opposition to the death penalty, as shown in opinion polls, has increased in the United States, while its use has declined. Liberal-leaning Massachusetts is among the growing number of US states that have abolished capital punishment in state courts. Polls in 2013 and 2015 found a majority of Boston voters favored a life sentence for Tsarnaev.

This year’s marathon is being run on Monday, two days before the Supreme Court’s arguments.

Even during his trial, victims disagreed about Tsarnaev’s punishment. Bill and Denise Richard, Martin’s parents, in a 2015 open letter published in the Boston Globe newspaper urged prosecutors not to pursue the death penalty, saying it would prompt years of appeals and “prolong reliving the most painful day of our lives.”

During conference calls organized by prosecutors over the years, survivors expressed views on both sides of the debate, according to Andrew Lelling, the former top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts.

“That’s one of the problems with death-penalty litigation – it just goes on too long, to the detriment of victims who have to suffer through the repeated appeals,” Lelling said.

Borgard, 30, said he worries that the Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, could use this case “as a rationale for the execution of other human beings.”

“For me personally that means that I’m implicated in other cases,” Borgard said. “And I’m really not okay with that at all.”

Norden, 59, said her views favoring execution for Tsarnaev have not changed, asking: “If this doesn’t warrant the death penalty, what does?” — Reuters

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