Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev appeals against conviction, death sentence

The Boston Red Sox ride in a victory parade on Oct 31, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts.
The Boston Red Sox ride in a victory parade on Oct 31, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts.PHOTO: AFP

BOSTON (REUTERS) - Lawyers for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on Thursday (Dec 27) asked an appellate court to overturn his conviction and death penalty sentence for helping to carry out the 2013 attack, which killed three people and wounded more than 260 others.

Lawyers for Tsarnaev, 25, argued in a brief filed with the 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston that a lower-court judge's refusal to move the case to another city not traumatised by the bombings deprived him of a fair trial.

The attorneys acknowledged that their client, then 19, carried out the attack along with his now-dead 26-year-old brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

But they argued that wall-to-wall media coverage of the bombings meant that nearly the entire jury pool was exposed to news about the attacks, which included "heart-wrenching stories about the homicide victims, the wounded and their families".

"The pre-trial publicity was damning: The more a prospective juror had seen, the more likely she was to believe that Tsarnaev was guilty and deserved the death penalty," Tsarnaev's lawyers wrote in a 500-page brief.

They said US District Judge George O'Toole also ignored evidence that two jurors had commented on the case on social media before being picked and prevented the defence from telling jurors about Tsarnaev's brother's ties to a 2011 triple murder.

That evidence, they said, would have supported their sentencing-related argument that Tsarnaev was a junior partner in a scheme run by his older brother, "an angry and violent man" who had embraced radical Islam.

 
 

The appeal came after a federal jury in 2015 found Tsarnaev guilty of placing a pair of homemade pressure-cooker bombs near the finish line of the world-renowned race on April 15, 2013, as well as fatally shooting a policeman three days later.

The same jury later found that Tsarnaev deserved execution for six of the 17 capital charges of which he was found guilty, which were related to the bomb he personally placed at the marathon's finish line.

That bomb killed eight-year-old Martin Richard, the youngest fatality, and 23-year-old Chinese exchange student Lingzi Lu. The bombing was one of the highest-profile attacks on United States soil since Sept 11, 2001.

Tsarnaev's brother died after a gunfight with police four days after the bombing, which ended when Tsarnaev ran him over with a stolen car.

The manhunt for Tsarnaev ended when he was found hiding in a boat dry-docked in Watertown, Massachusetts.