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The U.S. Will Seek The Death Penalty for Boston Bombing Suspect


The United States will seek the death penalty for the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing. Attorney General Eric Holder released a written statement today. He said the nature of the conduct at issue and the resultant harm compel this decision. 20-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is accused of killing four people and enduring hundreds. Here's NPR's Tovia Smith in Boston.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Justice officials say they're pursuing the death penalty because of the, quote, "especially heinous, cruel and depraved nature of Tsarnaev's alleged crimes." They also cited Tsarnaev's lack of remorse and that after receiving asylum from Chechnya, Tsarnaev, quote, "Betrayed his allegiance to the U.S. by purposely causing multiple deaths and injuries of innocent people."

LIZ NORDEN: I don't know if the word is satisfying but it does give some relief, like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.

SMITH: Liz Norden's two sons each lost a leg in the marathon attack. While some survivors say executing Tsarnaev would do nothing to ease their pain, Norden says a life sentence would not do justice in this case.

NORDEN: I mean, I watch my kids suffer every day. I watch their friends. I just see it destroys families. It's killed people. I just don't foresee what's the sense of letting him rot in jail. I honestly think the death penalty is warranted.

SMITH: Tsarnaev's defense team includes a death penalty specialist who helped both the Unabomber and the 1996 Olympics bomber avert the death penalty. They'll now try and convince a jury that if found guilty, Tsarnaev should be spared because of his young age and because he was under the influence of his older brother. Tsarnaev would need only one juror holdout since the death sentence has to be unanimous.

According to one poll, just 30 percent of Bostonians favor the death penalty for Tsarnaev. And in Massachusetts, there is no death penalty for state crimes. But former U.S. attorney Michael Sullivan says that should have no bearing for a federal defendant.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN: I think it would be unfair that the exact same crime committed, say, in a state like New Hampshire - 40 miles north - would somehow be subject to a much more serious punishment for the same federal offense.

SMITH: Authorities are not supposed to use the death penalty as leverage, but defendants facing execution do frequently plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence. As Governor Deval Patrick put it, one way or another, based on the evidence, Tsarnaev will die in prison. Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tovia Smith is an award-winning NPR National Correspondent based in Boston, who's spent more than three decades covering news around New England and beyond.