An appeals court overturned Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s death sentence yesterday, saying that the trial judge did not do enough to ensure an unbiased jury.
Overseeing the prosecution in the trial and death penalty phase was Carmen Ortiz, then a U.S. attorney for Massachusetts. WBUR’s Sharon Brody spoke to Ortiz about the appeals court’s decision.
On the appeals court’s ruling to overturn Tsarnaev’s sentence: “This is an unfortunate result and it’s disappointing, primarily because there’s so much not only government resources … that go into a process like this, but really the impact on the victims, the victims’ families, survivors of Tsarnaev’s crimes and what they went through — not only initially, as a result of being impacted by those crimes, but … going through the criminal justice process. The pain and the suffering that they had to endure to now be in this situation where there’s a possibility of a of a second death penalty phase trial, it’s really … unfortunate. My heart goes out to them.”
On jurors’ potential exposure to pretrial media coverage: “The media coverage in this case was very intense. It was worldwide, and obviously very notable here in Boston. But at the time that they were selecting the jury, I’m sure that the judge thought, as the government did, that there were questions … about what [jurors] had been exposed to in the media … but now, the First Circuit, looking back at that process, has determined that it was not enough. … There is always more questioning that can be asked. The question is, is it sufficient? I’m sure they probably thought it was. Now, the First Circuit has said, no, it wasn’t sufficient, that more questions should have been asked. More probing should have been done.”
“Someone’s life is at stake here. You want to make sure that the process that you have engaged in is completely fair, that it’s impartial, and you’ve done all that you can to get this objective and fair and impartial jury.”
On whether the current U.S. attorney should seek a retrial of the death penalty phase: “I’m not going to speak for the current U.S. attorney. The reality is that this will really be weighed heavily by the Department of Justice. It is the Department of Justice, as it is, for example, the United States attorney general who makes the ultimate decision as to whether or not the death penalty is going to be sought. This will be a long, involved process. There’ll be a lot of different individuals, including the current U.S. attorney. And depending upon what happens in the November election, you could have different administration possibly considering those options on that question.”
On why Ortiz didn’t make a plea deal in exchange for life imprisonment: “It wasn’t my position to make that deal. The attorney general of the United States makes that determination. And quite frankly, the U.S. attorney’s position in these death penalty cases is is to be kept confidential so that the ultimate decision-maker here, the attorney general, makes a decision as to whether or not we’re going to go forth. Given the gravity of this case, … the nature of the crimes, the extent and numbers of the victims in this case … I believe Attorney General Eric Holder, who personally is not supportive of the death penalty … It was his responsibility and obligation under the law and the facts of this case to approve and pursue the death penalty.”