Tsarnaev may face state trial for Sean Collier death
Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan plans to bring convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev back to Massachusetts to face state charges of murdering MIT police officer Sean Collier and other crimes in the days after the Marathon attacks, even though a federal judge last month sentenced Tsarnaev to death.
Ryan’s office said it is just beginning the process of asking the federal government to return Tsarnaev, and it is unclear when a trial would be scheduled. He is imprisoned in the US Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colo., known as Supermax.
Experts said they couldn’t think of another case in which someone on federal death row was tried again on additional state charges — Tsarnaev was already convicted in federal court on charges related to Collier’s death. But Middlesex prosecutors said Tsarnaev, 21, should face state charges in this case because of the severity of the crime — he and his late brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, gunned down the police officer after the brothers learned they were suspects in the Marathon bombings.
“When you come into Middlesex County and execute a police officer in the performance of his duties and assault other officers attempting to effect his capture, it is appropriate you should come back to Middlesex County to stand trial for that offense,” Ryan said in a statement. Tsarnaev also faces several other state charges, including carjacking and kidnapping.
In addition, Ryan suggested that convicting Dzhokhar Tsarnaev of state charges could act as an insurance policy in case Tsarnaev successfully appeals his federal conviction. Ryan noted that the federal convictions are “not yet final.” His convictions and sentence are subject to an automatic appeal.
However, bringing Tsarnaev back to Massachusetts could also pose challenges, such as the expense of a second trial, including paying for Tsarnaev’s defense and the security arrangements needed to guard a high-profile prisoner. If Tsarnaev does not plead guilty, a second trial could also dredge up wrenching emotions for victims who were hoping Tsarnaev would fade from public view after he was convicted of the federal crimes and sentenced to death.
“You have all the problems with the federal case,” said Brian T. Kelly, a former federal prosecutor who is now a partner at Boston law firm Nixon Peabody. “It becomes a media circus, a security nightmare, and it takes up a lot of expense and the court’s time.”
But Kelly added: “It’s understandable that they would want him to be held accountable for the murder of a police officer.”
Still, Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley — whose jurisdiction includes Boston — decided early on not to bring separate state charges against Tsarnaev for the Boston Marathon bombing, saying it would be “redundant” and accomplish little, because he already faced life in prison or death in the federal case.
“State-level indictments for crimes in Boston would only drag out the process that would already be grueling for victims, their families, and the city,” Conley said in 2013.
However, Middlesex prosecutors made a different decision, deciding to seek murder charges against Tsarnaev for Collier’s shooting in Cambridge, days after the bombings.
A Middlesex grand jury indicted Tsarnaev on 15 state charges, including Collier’s murder, in June 2013.
Collier’s father praised Middlesex prosecutors for seeking murder charges against Tsarnaev at the time.
“I can sense their commitment to prosecuting this individual for my son,” Allen Collier said then. “I couldn’t be happier.”
But the case was suspended pending the federal trial.
It’s unclear how the Collier family and Tsarnaev’s other victims would feel about a second trial now that Tsarnaev has already been convicted on all the federal counts and sentenced to death.
Allen Collier could not be reached Friday, and a spokesman for other family members said they did not wish to comment. Middlesex prosecutors declined to say whether the Collier family has indicated they want a second trial.
Some victims of the bombing may want the case to be over, but one said he’ll wait to see what Collier’s relatives want.
“I support the Collier family,” said Marc Fucarile, who lost a leg in the bombing and still faces additional surgery. “If the Collier family wants it, then go for it. If they don’t, then don’t do it.”
The Middlesex charges do not focus on the bombings themselves — which killed three people and injured roughly 260 more — but instead on the actions Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev took several days later as they attempted to elude police after authorities asked for the public’s help in identifying them.
The Cambridge brothers shot Collier in his vehicle on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus on April 18, 2013, possibly in an unsuccessful attempt to steal his gun. They then carjacked a vehicle in Boston and held the owner hostage until the man managed to escape during a stop at a gas station. After police tracked the car with GPS, the brothers engaged in a shootout with police in Watertown in which another officer was severely injured in the crossfire.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev later died after he was shot by police and then run over by his brother. Much of Boston was locked down for the day until police finally captured Dzhokhar Tsarnaev after a Watertown resident spotted him in his boat.
John Salsberg, the veteran Boston criminal defense attorney assigned to represent Tsarnaev in the state case, declined to comment.
Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C., said local prosecutors have the right to extradite federal inmates — even those on death row — to face local charges. But he couldn’t think of a case where it has happened with someone already on federal death row.
“There is no legal impediment to doing it,” Dunham said. “The question is whether it is a waste of resources.” He also noted “there will be extraordinary security issues.”
The Middlesex district attorney’s office declined to estimate the potential cost of putting Tsarnaev on trial, including security and the cost of Tsarnaev’s defense. The US attorney’s office said it could not say how much the federal trial cost.