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‘This was an attack on all of us’: Tsarnaev decision sparks anger, sorrow

Feelings of survivors, victims' families are at forefront for many

Photos, flowers, and signs adorned a barrier on Boylston Street, two days after the Marathon bombings.
Photos, flowers, and signs adorned a barrier on Boylston Street, two days after the Marathon bombings.Charles Krupa/Associated Press

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said he wants federal prosecutors to meet with victims of the Boston Marathon bombings and their families as they decide whether to hold another death penalty trial for the perpetrator. Edward F. Davis, the city’s police commissioner during the bombings, said those victims were overlooked by Friday’s appeals court ruling. The former leader of Boston’s FBI office called it a “painful resurrection.”

The decision Friday by the federal Appeals Court in Boston to reverse the death sentence for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev unleashed pain, anger, and sorrow among some of the people who investigated the violent attack and have sought to move the region beyond the collective trauma of the bombings and manhunt.

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“I’ve had many conversations with the families over the years, and I think it’s very painful for them to have to relive a trial,” Walsh said Saturday in a phone interview. “I just feel terrible that they have to go through this.”

While the ruling from the three-judge panel preserves his conviction and keeps Tsarnaev, 27, locked up for the rest of his life, the Justice Department must decide whether it will renew its pursuit of the death penalty and force the punishment phase of the trial to begin anew.

Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, carried out the attack on April 15, 2013, killing 8-year-old Martin Richard, Lingzi Lu, 23, a graduate student from China, and Krystle Marie Campbell, 29, of Arlington. Days later, the brothers killed MIT police officer Sean Collier while they were on the run in Cambridge.

After shooting Collier, the brothers went to Watertown where they exchanged fire with police officers. Boston Police officer Dennis Simmonds suffered a head injury when Tamerlan Tsarnaev detonated an explosive device. Simmonds died a year later from those injuries. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in the shootout.

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Rick DesLauriers, who led the FBI’s Boston office during the bombings, said he hopes prosecutors petition the Supreme Court to review the federal appeals court decision and possibly eliminate the need for another trial.

He assailed the ruling as an “unfortunate example of judicial activism” and “a slap in the face” to the jurors.

“It’s an unnecessarily painful resurrection of this issue for the victims and their families,” said DesLauriers, who retired from the FBI about three months after Tsarnaev’s capture.

The appeals court decided to vacate Tsarnaev’s death sentence based on revelations that at least two of the 12 jurors did not fully reveal what they knew about the case, or had discussed it on social media before they were selected for the jury. The three judges also concluded US District Court Judge George A. O’Toole Jr., who presided over the 2015 trial, erred when he declined to question jurors thoroughly about the social media posts, and instead relied on their claims that they could decide the case impartially.

The death penalty prosecution of Tsarnaev was initiated in 2014 by Eric Holder Jr., who served as attorney general under then-President Barack Obama. Now Attorney General William P. Barr will have the final say on whether prosecutors will seek to put Tsarnaev to death.

Last month, the Trump administration resumed federal executions and put three prisoners to death following an informal, 17-year moratorium. Another two executions have been set for August, and on Friday the Justice Department announced Christopher Andre Vialva and William Emmett LeCroy would die by lethal injection in late September at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind.

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Northampton attorney David P. Hoose, who has represented about a dozen defendants in capital cases, said the death penalty is always a political decision and this case is no different. He said the Trump administration will likely try to convince a second jury to order Tsarnaev’s execution.

“We’ve seen how Trump and Barr have used the death penalty to ramp up their political gains,” he said.

Hoose said he opposed trying the case in Boston, echoing the sentiments of Tsarnaev’s defense lawyers who insisted he couldn’t get a fair trial in the city he attacked. The passage of time, Hoose said, has done little to alter the landscape or the lingering effects of the bombings — even among those who were far from the Marathon finish line during the explosions.

“This was an attack on all of us. We’re all victims. Everyone in Greater Boston, if not Massachusetts, was a victim of this crime,” said Hoose. “It’s such a horrendous crime and I don’t know how any of us could have been fair in judging his guilt and whether he was deserving of the death penalty.”

Davis, the former Boston police commissioner, said he believes Tsarnaev will have another penalty phase trial, and the proceedings will damage the families of those who were killed or injured.

“I just wish it didn’t have to happen,” he said.

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Richard “Dic” Donohue, the former MBTA Transit Police officer who was wounded in the Watertown shootout, said the ruling didn’t come as a surprise.

“I’ve been expecting this since the trial and the initial appeal,” Donohue wrote on Twitter Friday. “And in any case, he won’t be getting out and hasn’t been able to harm anyone since he was captured.”

His wife, Kim, said the ruling “does not change anything in our lives” and doesn’t bring back their friend, Collier.

“We have chosen to move forward in happiness and hope,” she said.

The Watertown Police Department said it was “disheartened” by the federal appeals court decision.

Tsarnaev’s “unconscionable acts of terrorism during the 2013 Boston Marathon and subsequent days has forever altered the lives of so many,” the department wrote on Twitter. “We continue to mourn the loss of those who died.”

Adrianne Haslet, who lost part of her left leg in the bombing, wrote on social media that she is “ready to testify again.”

“He is a threat to all of us and he needs to die,” she wrote.

Rebekah Gregory, who had her left leg amputated below the knee after being injured in the first blast, wrote on Twitter that the appeals court decision “prolongs the nightmare we have been living the last SEVEN years.”

“What about the innocent lives that were taken that day,” she wrote. “Where is their justice?”

David Abel of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Jeremy C. Fox contributed to this report.

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Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.