Just a few weeks after the 2021 Boston Marathon, attorney Ginger Anders was invited to speak about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the ongoing Supreme Court case, U.S. v. Tsarnaev, on October 28, 2021.
As an attorney for the Supreme Court, Anders was in charge of the defense of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the man who was convicted of planting two bombs at the 2013 Boston Marathon finish line, which resulted in three deaths and over 260 injuries. Now in the penalty phase, Tsarnaev is on trial for whether or not he will receive the death penalty for his crimes.
Staunchly against the death penalty, Anders explained how there are two main ways that the prosecution and the Supreme Court have not been treating this case with objectivity.
The first problem was jury selection. When dealing with such a highly publicized case, it was incredibly important to find jurors who would remain objective and uninfluenced by outside media and public opinion. However, when interviewing the 1,200 potential jurors, the Court neglected to ask what specific media they had been exposed to regarding the case.
“In this case, of all cases, it’s really difficult to think of a reason not to ask this question, and there is a likelihood that we would get some good information out of it,” Anders explained. “It makes sense in this context, where there is an unprecedented amount of publicity… there is no reason not to ask it.”
Previous cases in Boston have shown evidence of court interest in the answer to this question, which begs the question of why this case would be treated any differently. Anders explained that the most important factor to consider when determining the questions to ask potential jurors is the context and circumstances of a certain case. In this instance, with so much media coverage in the news, it would be extremely important to ask such a question.
The second main issue was the withholding of evidence of the Waltham murders. A few years prior to the bombing, Dzhokhar’s older brother Tamerlan had been involved in a triple murder in Waltham and was already proven to have extremist motivations. The defense claimed that Tamerlan’s radicalization of his brother was what influenced Dzhokhar’s involvement in the marathon bombing.
The judge’s primary reason for excluding this evidence was that it was unreliable since the only accomplice to confess and incriminate Tamerlan in the Waltham murders was killed after confessing. However, it would still prove useful and lawful to take all the evidence into account under these circumstances.
“Under the 8th Amendment, the legal principles governing here, your conception of relevance has to be extraordinarily broad. Because all you’re doing is allowing the defense to present an argument for not being executed.” Anders stated.
There is also the question of how the previous precedents that have been set affect this current case. The precedents have been shown to be in favor of the defense, since past cases show that the defense is able to offer any evidence in a case like this, regardless of its “reliability.”
“This kind of evidence comes in all the time at the penalty phase, and often it’s the government offering it,” Anders explained. “One of the things the government wants to do in the penalty phase is offer aggravating evidence, and one way they do that is to say that the defendant committed a bunch of other crimes in the past.”
This shows the abnormality of the present conditions in the U.S. v. Tsarnaev case since whether or not there are actual previous convictions against the defendant, this evidence can still be relevant when determining their guilt and/or penalty.