scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Boston Bar Association urges Attorney General Barr to drop pursuit of death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Attorney General William Barr.DOUG MILLS/NYT

The Boston Bar Association on Monday urged Attorney General William Barr to let Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev spend the rest of his life behind bars after an appellate court overturned his death sentence.

“The Boston Bar Association urges [Barr] to use this opportunity for reflection and let the case rest,” the group said in a statement. “The Massachusetts US Attorney’s Office successfully prosecuted the case in 2015, winning a guilty verdict that is not being appealed and that will therefore result in the surviving bomber spending the remainder of his days in federal prison. That should be enough.”

The association, which has long opposed capital punishment, added that “the US Attorney General has the final authority to halt that pursuit. We hope that he does so.”


The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.

In a 182-page ruling that was issued July 31, the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that the judge in Tsarnaev’s 2015 trial, George A. O’Toole Jr., “did not meet the standard” of fairness while presiding over jury selection.

The blasts near the Marathon finish line in April 2013 killed three people and wounded 264. Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, also fatally shot an MIT police officer while they were on the run from authorities. Tamerlan was killed in a confrontation with police in Watertown days after the bombings.

The court’s decision to vacate Tsarnaev’s death sentence infuriated some victims, and Andrew E. Lelling, US Attorney for Massachusetts, recently said he would consider the views of survivors and victims’ families before deciding whether to seek a new death penalty trial.

“We know the stakes are high for these victims, indeed for the city of Boston as a whole,” he said in a statement. “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.”


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; three of the judges on the panel had issued last month’s ruling. Prosecutors could also ask the US Supreme Court to take up the matter

Patricia Campbell, whose 29-year-old daughter, Krystle, was killed in the blasts, told the Globe in a recent interview that she’s 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.”

Beth Bourgault, 65, of Lynn, 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.

“I would prefer to let it go and let him rot in jail,” Bourgault recently told the Globe, adding that the younger Tsarnaev was “hoping for death,” whereas she’d prefer that “he spend his days thinking about what he did.”

Material from previous Globe stories was used in this report.


Travis Andersen can be reached at