Washington (AFP) – The United States is to seek a rare federal death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving young student accused of the Boston marathon bombings, Attorney General Eric Holder said.
Three people were killed and about 260 wounded on April 15 last year when two bombs made of explosives-packed pressure cookers went off near the finish line of the Boston marathon. Several of the injured lost limbs.
Tsarnaev, then 19, and his 26-year-old brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev were cornered by police after a four-day manhunt. Tamerlan died after an exchange of fire with police and Dzhokhar was wounded.
“The nature of the conduct at issue and the resultant harm compel this decision,” Holder said in a statement on the prosecution of the 20-year-old, a U.S. citizen from a Chechen Muslim family.
Experts say the announcement — which was widely anticipated — is partly a symbolic gesture to the American public, for whom the bombings reignited traumatic memories of the September 11, 2001 attacks, and does not necessarily mean Tsarnaev will be executed if found guilty.
The shaggy-haired onetime student has pleaded not guilty to 30 federal charges related to the bombings, including 17 serious charges that can carry sentences of death or life in prison.
These charges include using a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death, as well as conspiracy and bombing of a place of public use resulting in death, and carjacking.
Tsarnaev is also charged in connection with the fatal shooting of a campus police officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology during the brothers’ wild overnight getaway attempt.
The brothers are said to have built the bombs with help from an online Al-Qaeda magazine, but they are not accused of having received help from any organized foreign terror group.
Carmen Ortiz, the federal prosecutor in Massachusetts, home to Boston, said in a statement: “We support this decision and the trial team is prepared to move forward with the prosecution.”
She added: “The case will now continue to proceed through the pre-trial process and the next scheduled court event is a status conference set for February 12, 2014.”