[10/13/21] – Supreme Court Revisits Death Sentence of Boston Marathon Bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

On Wednesday, October 13th, the U.S. Supreme Court suggested that it was ready to reinstate the death penalty of 28-year-old Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Tsarnaev had been convicted of thirty federal terrorism-related charges and sentenced to death in 2015 after he and his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, killed three people and injured hundreds of others when they detonated two homemade pressure cooker bombs at the Boston Marathon finish line on April 15, 2013. However, in July of 2020, a U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the sentences, citing errors such as failure to impanel an impartial jury, among others. After 90-minutes of arguments on Wednesday, the court appears to be  split largely along ideological lines, with the six conservative justices suggesting that they were ready to embrace the re-instatement of Tsarnaev’s death sentence, while the three liberal justices appeared to side with the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals. Reinstating the death penalty is an action that is supported by the Biden administration, despite the presidents vocal opposition on the use of capital punishment at the federal level and the current federal moratorium on executions. While some of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing support the reinstatement of the death penalty, others such as Bill and Denise Richard, the parents of Martin Richard, an 8-year-old boy who was killed in the bombing, have argued that “the continued pursuit of that punishment could bring years of appeals and prolong reliving the most painful day of our lives.” If the U.S. Supreme Court affirms the U.S. Court of Appeals’ decision then Tsarnaev would likely have to face a new sentencing trial if the Biden administration continues to pursue the death sentence. If the court rules to reinstate the death penalty, Tsarnaev will remain on death row at the federal supermax prison in Florence, Colorado.

Instructors, click on the link below to download this week’s lecture for use in your classroom.

The deck contains a writing prompt, a debate question, as well as other assessment questions.



  • Writing: Explain why the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s death sentence in 2020.      
  • Debate: According to John Yang of PBS News, the U.S. Court of Appeals threw out the death penalty because the trial judge made two mistakes, including not asking the jury if they had been influenced by pretrial publicity. Do you believe that there is a chance that the jury was not impartial given the proliferation of the media coverage after the bombing?
  • Poll: The U.S. Supreme Court should reinstate Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s death sentence. (Agree or Disagree).
  • Short Answer: Discuss what would happen if the U.S. Supreme Court decides to affirm the U.S. Court of Appeals’ decision.   

Cover Image: iStock.com/LornaWu

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