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Retired SJC justice joins lawyers backing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s bid for new death penalty trial

This photo taken of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on March 23, 2015, courtesy of the US Department of Justice/US Attorney’s Office District of Massachusetts, was presented to jurors in Boston. AFP/Getty Images

A retired justice of the state’s highest court is joining other prominent lawyers and academics in supporting Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s bid for a new death penalty trial.

Former state Supreme Judicial Court Associate Justice Fernande R.V. Duffly was among eight well-known attorneys and legal scholars who signed on to an amicus brief submitted on behalf of Tsarnaev Thursday to the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston.

Tsarnaev, 25, is challenging the death sentence rendered at the conclusion of his high-profile 2015 trial in US District in Court in Boston. He admitted to his role in the April 15, 2013 bombings, which killed three people including an 8-year-old boy, and wounded at least 260 others.


Tsarnaev and his older brother and accomplice, Tamerlan, also murdered an MIT police officer while they were on the run. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed during a confrontation with police in Watertown four days after the blasts.

In Thursday’s brief, Duffly and the other signers said the presiding judge in the 2015 trial “made a grievous error in insisting this case be tried in Boston. The multiple violent terrorist acts and their aftermath profoundly affected our friends and neighbors. Holding the trial here asked too much, both of our neighbors, who were called to jury service, and of the voir dire process.”

The filing continued, “Sometimes, overwhelmingly violent and traumatic circumstances preclude the reliable assessment of partiality and prejudice. This is particularly so here, at least regarding the sentencing decision the jury would be required to make.”

The brief was attached to a motion seeking permission to file the document as part of the official appellate record. It came one day after the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers filed a proposed amicus brief of their own, asserting the jury should have been told of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s alleged involvement in a Waltham triple slaying in 2011.


Federal prosecutors hadn’t responded to either filing as of Friday morning. Oral arguments in Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s appeal haven’t yet been scheduled. He is incarcerated at a federal supermax prison in Colorado.

Duffly was appointed to the SJC by former governor Deval Patrick; she was sworn in on Feb. 1, 2011 and retired in 2016. She had previously served as a judge on the Probate and Family Court, as well as the Massachusetts Appeals Court.

The other signers to Thursday’s brief were Northeastern law professors Daniel S. Medwed and Michael Meltsner; Boston College law professors Robert M. Bloom and Mark S. Brodin; former state banking commissioner Alan Morse; Harvard Kennedy School of Government senior faculty member Christopher Winship; and James Doyle, former head of the statewide Public Defender Division of the Committee for Public Counsel Services.

Travis Andersen can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.