She’s had too many nightmares.
Seven years after losing her daughter to a homemade bomb that detonated beside the finish line of the Boston Marathon, Patricia Campbell wants nothing more than to be free of the anger and depression that still haunt her. She wishes the thought of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was sentenced to death in 2015 for the terrorist attack that led to the deaths of her daughter, Krystle, and four others, could fade away with time.
But when a federal appeals court in July overturned the jury’s death sentence and ordered a new trial to determine whether Tsarnaev, now 27, should live or die, it drew her back to the indelible horror of that April afternoon that wounded more than 260 others.
At first, she struggled to understand how the court could make such a painful ruling: If committing such a grievous act of terror didn’t warrant the death penalty, she wondered, what did?
As she thought about it more, about what Krystle, who died at 29, might want, she found herself torn over whether to urge federal prosecutors to seek another trial or let the ruling stand, with the assurance that Tsarnaev would spend the rest of his life in prison.
“I just don’t know,” said Campbell, 61, who lives in Medford. “I have mixed feelings about this whole thing.”
The overturning of Tsarnaev’s death sentence has sent tremors of anxiety across the community of survivors and relatives of those killed in the attack, many of whom are still recovering from their physical and emotional wounds.
Three days after Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, planted two pressure cooker bombs loaded with shrapnel a block apart on Boylston Street, killing three people, they ambushed and murdered an MIT police officer sitting in his patrol car, in an effort to steal his gun. A few hours later, in a stolen car, they led police from the area on a high-speed chase that ended in a late-night gun battle in Watertown, in which the older brother was killed and a Boston police officer sustained wounds that he died from a year later.
Tsarnaev, who was found in a pool of blood hiding in a boat parked in a nearby backyard, was sentenced to death after a two-and-a-half month trial in 2015, in which the jury convicted him of all 30 charges he faced. (The appeals courts dismissed three of those charges.)
In a statement, Andrew Lelling, US attorney for Massachusetts, promised to consider the views of survivors and victims’ families before deciding whether to seek a new trial.
“We know the stakes are high for these victims, indeed for the city of Boston as a whole,” he said. “This week, I had the chance to hear from the victims directly, and their voices will be taken into account as I prepare my formal recommendation on how to proceed.”
But many of the bombings’ survivors share Campbell’s internal conflict over whether the pursuit of a death sentence, and the sense of justice it would bring, is worth the anguish of a new trial and the prospect of years of uncertainty from further appeals.
“Let him serve his life in prison, and let us live our lives in peace,” said Lynn Julian Crisci, who suffered a brain injury, hearing loss, and neurological disorders as a result of the first bomb.
Crisci, 43, used to support the death penalty, until having to live through what feels like an endless appeals process. Now she hopes prosecutors will not seek another penalty trial.
“Every appeal, every new trial, picks the delicate scabs off our open wounds,” she said. “Just like on 4/15/2013, we are now bleeding all over again. Only this time, emotionally.”
But as Lelling considers the legal options, consensus seems elusive. Of 18 victims who responded to the Globe about what prosecutors should do, a majority said they would prefer to avoid another trial and to let Tsarnaev spend the rest of his days at the US Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Colorado, the nation’s highest-security prison.
“I would prefer to let it go and let him rot in jail,” said Beth Bourgault, 65, who lives in Lynn.
Bourgault and her husband were standing a few feet from Krystle Campbell when the first of two bombs exploded on Boylston Street. Shrapnel severed muscles and nerves in one of her legs. She also suffered a ruptured eardrum. Her husband, Michael, suffered burns and ear injuries as well.
She was troubled when Tsarnaev was originally sentenced to death and hopes prosecutors do not pursue a second trial.
“My feeling is he was hoping for death and that he got what he wanted,” she said. “I’d prefer he spend his days thinking about what he did.”
Other victims, though, were enraged by the court’s ruling and were willing to endure another trial to see Tsarnaev sentenced to death.
“If they don’t go through with the death penalty in this case, what kind of precedent is there? What’s the point of the death penalty?” said Liz Norden, whose two adult sons lost their right legs in the bombing. “This is personal to me.”
Norden, 57, who lives in Melrose, vowed to attend a new trial. “I want to see it through the end,” she said. “I want justice.”
In its 182-page ruling, the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, found the trial court judge, George A. O’Toole Jr., “did not meet the standard” of fairness while presiding over jury selection, finding he failed to screen jurors sufficiently for bias.
“A core promise of our criminal justice system is that even the very worst among us deserves to be fairly tried and lawfully punished,” wrote Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson, who described the bombings as “one of the worst domestic terrorist attacks since the 9/11 atrocities.”
The next step is up to the Department of Justice. On Monday, the federal court of appeals in Boston said the Justice Department must decide by Sept. 14 whether it wishes to have all the judges who serve on the First Circuit hear the case. Prosecutors could also appeal the case to the Supreme Court.
Another option would be to convene a new jury and put Tsarnaev’s fate in their hands during a new trial. After the ruling, President Trump said the government should seek the death penalty, posting on Twitter that “rarely has anybody deserved the death penalty more” than Tsarnaev.
“Our Country cannot let the appellate decision stand,” he wrote. “Also, it is ridiculous that this process is taking so long!”
On Thursday, the US attorney’s office in Massachusetts, which prosecuted Tsarnaev in 2015, held a conference call with victims to discuss the appeals court decision and how they wished to proceed.
Discerning a consensus might be difficult.
Helen Zhao, who lost her niece Lingzi Lu, a 23-year-old Boston University graduate student from China, to the second bomb, supports the death penalty for Tsarnaev.
“He has harmed a lot of people and changed a lot of people’s lives,” she said. “He’s a terrorist.”
Lu’s parents, who live in China, were “shocked” and “speechless” by the ruling, she said.
“They were disappointed in the American legal system,” said Zhao, 49, who lives in Rhode Island.
Marc Fucarile, who lost his right leg in the bombing, worried that a life sentence could mean that Tsarnaev might one day be able to regain his freedom.
“As long as he’s breathing, that’s a possibility,” he said. “They’re giving [Tsarnaev] a victory.”
Fucarile, 41, who lives in Reading, testified during the penalty phase at Tsarnaev’s trial and said he would attend a new trial.
“I want to see it happen,” he said.
But Jenny Chung Greenfield, who was hit by shrapnel in her chest from one of the bombs, prefers that prosecutors put an end to what could be decades worth of appeals, keeping Tsarnaev’s name in the public eye. She didn’t attend the first trial and doubts she’d go to a new one.
“I just think about what does closure mean, and closure is such a personal thing to people, and the way that folks find closure is different,” said Chung Greenfield, 42, who lives in Cambridge.
Mikey Borgard, 29, said he felt a sense of relief when he learned about the court’s ruling. Tsarnaev’s first trial made him realize that capital punishment made him “deeply uncomfortable.”
Borgard was walking home from working at Fenway Park when he made it to Boylston Street just as the second blast went off. He suffered hearing loss and a traumatic brain injury.
“No amount of evidence justifies taking a life, just like no amount of hate or persuasion or indoctrination justifies [Tsarnaev’s] actions,” said Borgard, a doctoral candidate studying writing at the University of Missouri. “Until this latest decision, I was angry that I would be complicit in his death.”
And then there are those who are conflicted about how prosecutors should proceed.
Dr. James Bath, a bystander who helped the wounded and testified during the trial that found Tsarnaev guilty, said he deserved the death penalty. But he acknowledged that a new trial would “open deep, agonizing wounds.”
“So while undeniably unjust, I think it would be better for everyone if he was just forgotten,” said Bath, 52, of Charlestown.
During the initial trial, Rebekah Gregory supported other survivors who urged prosecutors to seek a sentence of life in prison. Gregory, who lost her left leg below the knee in the bombing, signed a letter opposing the death penalty in support of the family of Martin Richard, an 8-year-old boy who was killed.
“They felt that if he got the death penalty there would be all of these different appeals, and this would go on forever, and no one could ever get away from it,” she said. “And so, here we are.”
When Gregory learned that Tsarnaev’s death sentence had been overturned, she felt blindsided, and despaired at the prospect of another trial. The ruling made her second-guess her faith in the judicial system.
“I closed that chapter of my life, and whether or not he lives or dies doesn’t bring back anything,” she said. “It doesn’t bring back my leg, it doesn’t bring back our sense of security, and the precious lives that we have lost. It’s really just a technicality.”
But as time has passed, Gregory has decided to attend a new trial — both for herself and in solidarity with other victims.
“If I refuse to go to trial, I feel in my heart that means he’s taken something from me, or I still have that fear or that part of me that can’t face it, and I want to face it,” she said.
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