Biden administration pushes for Boston Marathon bomber death sentence

By Nate Raymond

BOSTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department has urged the Supreme Court to reinstate the death sentence of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, convicted in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, despite President Joe Biden’s stated opposition to capital punishment.

The department in a 48-page brief filed late on Monday argued that a lower court wrongly overturned Tsnarnaev’s death sentence and ordered a new trial to determine what sentence he deserved for carrying out with his older brother the attack that killed three people and wounded more than 260 others.

The filing marked the latest deviation between the policy views of Biden, a Democrat who has said he wants to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level, and the Justice Department, whose independence he has vowed to promote.

“The jury carefully considered each of respondent’s crimes and determined that capital punishment was warranted for the horrors that he personally inflicted,” Acting Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar said in the Justice Department’s brief.

David Patton, Tsarnaev’s lawyer, has argued that the U.S. government should allow his client to serve life in prison. Patton did not respond to a request for comment.

In overturning Tsarnaev’s death sentence, the Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in July 2020 ruled that the trial judge “fell short” in screening jurors for potential bias following pervasive news coverage of the bombing. It ordered a new trial over the sentence he should receive for the death penalty-eligible crimes for which he was convicted.

Tsarnaev is a Kyrgyzstan-born U.S. citizen.

The Justice Department under Republican former President Donald Trump initiated the government’s appeal of the 1st Circuit ruling, and the Supreme Court in March agreed to take up the case. It will hear arguments and issue a ruling in its next term, which starts in October and ends in June 2022.

Tsarnaev, now 27, and his brother, Tamerlan, precipitated five days of panic in Boston when they detonated two homemade pressure-cooker bombs at the marathon’s finish line on April 15, 2013 – tearing through the packed crowd and causing many people to lose legs – and then tried to flee the city.

In the following days, they also killed a police officer, Sean Collier. Tsarnaev’s brother died after a gunfight with police.

Jurors in 2015 found Tsarnaev guilty of all 30 counts he faced and later determined he deserved execution for a bomb he planted that killed Martin Richard, 8, and Chinese exchange student Lingzi Lu, 23. Restaurant manager Krystle Campbell, 29, was also killed.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Will Dunham)

Dylann Roof appeals death sentence for South Carolina church massacre

(Reuters) – Lawyers for Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who killed nine Black people at a South Carolina church in 2015, argued on Tuesday in court to overturn his conviction and sentence because he was not competent to stand trial and represent himself.

Attorneys for Roof pressed their case during an appeals court hearing on Tuesday, squaring off with U.S. government lawyers trying to uphold his conviction on 33 federal charges, including hate crimes, and subsequent death sentence.

Federal public defenders representing Roof launched the appeal in early 2020. They argued that Roof suffered from schizophrenia spectrum disorder and other mental problems and “believed his sentence didn’t matter because white nationalists would free him from prison after an impending race war.”

Ann O’Connell Adams, a U.S. Justice Department lawyer, told a panel of three judges that Roof did not act irrationally in representing himself and had shown that he understood the risk that he could face the death penalty if found guilty.

In December 2016, a jury found Roof guilty of 33 federal charges for the mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston in June 2015. The same jury sentenced him to death in January 2017.

Roof dismissed his defense attorneys just before trial and represented himself during jury selection. At the last minute he reinstated his lawyers for the guilt phase but represented himself again for the penalty phase.

(reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

California court ordered to reconsider Scott Peterson murder conviction

By Mimi Dwyer

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Two months after winning a reversal of his death sentence, lawyers for Scott Peterson, the California man found guilty of murdering his wife and unborn child in a sensational 2004 trial, have persuaded the state’s high court to order a review of his conviction.

The California Supreme Court on Wednesday sent the case back to trial court in San Mateo County to consider Peterson’s contention that his conviction on two counts of murder be set aside on grounds of prejudicial misconduct by a member of the jury.

The high court ruled in August that the trial judge had erred in jury selection, but rejected Peterson’s appeal of his conviction in the 2002 slaying of his pregnant wife, Laci, who went missing on Christmas Eve that year.

In a nearly 300-page habeas corpus petition originally filed in 2015, Peterson’s attorneys outlined 19 claims arguing for a new trial, the first being that one juror concealed a possible bias against the defendant.

According to the petition, the juror “had lied her way onto” the panel by falsely denying that she had ever been the victim of a crime or involved in a lawsuit, even though, while pregnant, she had sought a restraining order against a boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend.

“Someone who has gone through an experience where someone was threatening their unborn child will probably have a perspective on charges brought against a defendant for harming an unborn child,” Cliff Gardner, an attorney for Peterson, told Reuters on Thursday. “They may come in with a bias that other people wouldn’t have.”

The California Supreme Court ordered the state to show “why the relief prayed for should not be granted on the ground that Juror No. 7 committed prejudicial misconduct by not disclosing her prior involvement with other legal proceedings.” Prosecutors were given until Nov. 13 to respond.

John Goold, a spokesman for prosecutors handling the motion, cautioned that the order does not automatically lead to a new trial, but requires the lower court to consider a single issue raised by Peterson’s defense team in challenging the conviction.

(Reporting by Mimi Dwyer; Editing by Leslie Adler)

U.S. to ask top court to restore Boston Marathon bomber Tsarnaev’s death sentence

By Nate Raymond

BOSTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department said on Thursday it will ask the nation’s top court to reinstate Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s death sentence for helping carry out the 2013 attack that killed three people and wounded more than 260 others.

U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling in Boston said that after considering victims’ views, the department had decided to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review an appellate court’s July 31 decision to order a new death penalty phase trial for Tsarnaev.

“Our hope is that this will result in reinstatement of the original sentence and avoid a retrial of the death penalty phase,” Lelling said in a statement.

His statement came after U.S. Attorney General William Barr told the Associated Press the department will “do whatever’s necessary” and continue to pursue the death penalty, a position consistent with President Donald Trump’s views.

Victims have been divided over seeking the death penalty, and David Patton, Tsarnaev’s lawyer, had argued prosecutors should allow “closure” by permitting a life prison sentence.

In its ruling, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that a trial judge “fell short” in conducting the jury selection process and screening jurors for potential bias following pretrial publicity.

Tsarnaev, 27, and his older brother, Tamerlan, sparked five days of panic in Boston on April 15, 2013, when they detonated two homemade pressure cooker bombs at the marathon’s finish line and then tried to flee the city.

In the days that followed, they also killed a police officer. Tsarnaev’s brother died after a gunfight with police.

A federal jury in 2015 found Tsarnaev guilty of all 30 counts he faced and later determined he deserved execution for a bomb he planted that killed 8-year-old Martin Richard and 23-year-old Chinese exchange student Lingzi Lu. Restaurant manager Krystle Campbell, 29, was also killed.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Cynthia Osterman, Peter Cooney and Richard Pullin)

Iran says it will execute man convicted of spying on Soleimani for CIA

By Parisa Hafezi

DUBAI (Reuters) – An Iranian who spied for U.S. and Israeli intelligence on slain Revolutionary Guards commander Qassem Soleimani has been sentenced to death, Iran said on Tuesday, adding the case was not linked to Soleimani’s killing earlier this year.

On Jan. 3, a U.S. drone strike in Iraq killed Soleimani, leader of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force. Washington blamed Soleimani for masterminding attacks by Iran-aligned militias on U.S. forces in the region.

“Mahmoud Mousavi-Majd, one of the spies for the CIA and the Mossad, has been sentenced to death … He had shared information about the whereabouts of martyr Soleimani with our enemies,” judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said in a televised news conference.

“He passed on security information to the Israeli and American intelligence agencies about Iran’s armed forces, particularly the Guards,” Esmaili said.

Esmaili said Mousavi-Majd’s death sentence has been upheld by a supreme court and “he will be executed soon.”

Later, the judiciary said in a statement that Mousavi-Majd’s conviction was not linked to “the terrorist act of the U.S. government” in Soleimani’s killing in Iraq.

“All the legal proceedings in the case of this spy … had been carried out long before the martyrdom of Soleimani,” the statement said, adding that Mousavi-Majd had been arrested in October 2018.

Officials have not said whether Mousavi-Majd’s case is linked to Iran’s announcement in the summer of 2019 that it had captured 17 spies working for the CIA, some of whom it said were sentenced to death.

Nor have they said whether Mousavi-Majd’s case is linked to Iran’s announcement in February of this year that Iran had sentence to death a man for spying for the CIA and attempting to pass on information about Tehran’s nuclear program.

Soleimani’s killing led to a peak in confrontation between Iran and the United States. Iran retaliated with a rocket attack on an Iraqi air base where U.S. forces were stationed. Hours later, Iranian forces on high alert mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger airliner taking off from Tehran.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Peter Graff and William Maclean)

Khashoggi’s fiancee says execution of those convicted would conceal truth

ANKARA (Reuters) – The fiancee of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi described the sentencing of five people to death in relation to the killing as unfair and invalid, adding that their execution would further conceal the truth.

Khashoggi disappeared after going to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018, to obtain documents for his planned wedding. His body was reportedly dismembered and removed from the building and his remains have not been found.

A Saudi court on Monday sentenced five people to death and three to jail over the murder, while dismissing charges against three others, finding them not guilty. A U.N. investigator accused Riyadh of making a “mockery” of justice by exonerating senior figures who may have ordered the killing.

The presiding Saudi court rejected the findings of a U.N. inquiry by ruling that the killing was not premeditated, rather carried out “at the spur of the moment”.

Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancee, was waiting outside the consulate when he went inside to retrieve the documents.

In a statement on Tuesday, Cengiz said the trial did not reveal why those convicted had killed Khashoggi because the trial was held behind closed doors.

“If these people are executed without any chance to speak or explain themselves, we might never know the truth behind this murder,” she said.

“I’m calling upon every authority in the world to condemn this kind of court decision and urgently prevent any execution, because this would just be another step in concealing the truth.”

“SHAM TRIAL”

Turkey said on Monday the trial outcome fell far short of serving justice, and on Tuesday Turkish Communications Director Fahrettin Altun slammed the verdict as an “insult to the intelligence of any fair observer”.

“The international media must pursue the case of Khashoggi until there is true accountability… Those responsible must face justice sooner or later,” Altun said on Twitter, calling the case a “sham trial”.

“This despicable murder was done at a diplomatic facility against every diplomatic norm imaginable! We will follow this case to the end regardless (of) how high it goes.”

The murder of Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and critic of the kingdom’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, caused a global outcry, and some Western governments, as well as the CIA, said they believed the prince ordered the killing.

Saudi officials say he had no role, though in September the crown prince indicated some personal accountability, saying “it happened under my watch”.

After Monday’s verdict, a source familiar with U.S. intelligence assessments said key U.S. government agencies rejected the validity of the court proceedings and CIA experts still believed Prince Mohammad personally ordered, or at least approved of, the killing.

The source said the five men condemned to death were essentially foot soldiers in the killing, while two senior security officials acquitted played a more significant role.

(Reporting by Yesim Dikmen, Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay; Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Daren Butler, Mark Heinrich and Nick Macfie)

Boston Marathon bomber seeks to avoid death penalty

Boston Marathon bomber seeks to avoid death penalty
By Tim McLaughlin

BOSTON (Reuters) – Lawyers for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on Thursday will try to persuade a federal appeals court that the death sentence he faces is unfair because it was handed down by a tainted jury.

Tsarnaev’s defense team, in briefs filed with the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, have argued that the publicity and manhunt leading to his capture in April 2013 biased the pool of potential jurors, including one actual juror who joined the unanimous vote for the death penalty.

The then-19-year-old Tsarnaev and his 26-year-old brother Tamerlan sparked five days of panic in Boston when they detonated a pair of homemade pressure cooker bombs at the marathon’s finish line, killing three people and injuring more than 200.

The pair eluded capture for days, punctuated by a gunbattle with police in Watertown, Massachusetts, in which Tamerlan was killed. Boston and most of its suburbs were locked down for a day as armed officers and troops conducted a house-to-house search for Dzhokhar.

Tsarnaev, now 26, was sentenced to death in 2015 after a jury found him guilty of killing three people in the April 15, 2013 bombing – Martin Richard, 8; Chinese exchange student Lingzi Lu, 26, and restaurant manager Krystle Campbell – and murdering Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier, 26, three days later as the brothers attempted to flee.

Tsarnaev is not expected to be present during two hours of oral arguments at the same federal courthouse in Boston where he was convicted. His lawyers are asking the appeals court to reverse his death sentence.

“Tsarnaev was tried in a community still suffering from his crimes,” his defense team argued in court papers. “Two of the jurors who voted to sentence him to death lied during (jury selection), including the foreperson, who falsely denied calling Tsarnaev a ‘piece of garbage’ on Twitter, and, as the government concedes, failed to disclose that she and her family had sheltered in place in their Dorchester home during the manhunt.”

U.S. Justice Department lawyers say Tsarnaev received a fair trial and the jury was picked from a population mostly opposed to the death penalty. During his trial, a poll by the Boston Globe showed that about two-thirds of Massachusetts residents favored a life sentence for Tsarnaev.

During the trial, the family of the youngest victim, Richard, also asked prosecutors to consider taking the death penalty off the table.

(Reporting By Tim McLaughlin; Editing by Scott Malone and Grant McCool)

Bangladesh sentences 16 to death for killing teenager in harassment case

Bangladesh sentences 16 to death for killing teenager in harassment case
DHAKA (Reuters) – The principal of a religious school in Bangladesh was among 16 people sentenced to death on Thursday for the murder of a teenage girl who refused to withdraw a complaint of sexual harassment against him, the public prosecutor said.

The perpetrators poured kerosene over Nusrat Jahan, 18, and set her on fire on the roof of her madrasa in April in the southeastern district of Feni. Police said in their charge-sheet the murder was carried out on the orders of the principal.

“The judgment proves that no one is above the law,” public prosecutor Hafez Ahmed told reporters after the court verdict.

He said the defense lawyers had tried unsuccessfully to establish that Jahan had committed suicide.

Defense lawyer Giasuddin Nannu said all the convicts will challenge the verdict in the High Court.

Jahan’s death sparked public outrage and mass demonstrations calling for her killers to be punished. She had faced pressure to withdraw a complaint to police in March accusing the school principal of attempted rape, her family said.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had met her family and vowed to bring the killers to justice.

Two female classmates and two local leaders of her party were among those convicted.

After the murder, the government instructed some 27,000 educational institutions to form committees to prevent sexual assaults.

“I can’t forget her for a moment. I still feel the pain that she went through,” mother Shirin Akhtar said as she burst into tears at her home following the verdict.

Jahan’s brother, Mahmudul Hasan Noman, demanded that the death sentences be carried out swiftly and sought protection for his family against reprisals.

“We live in fear. We were threatened even today in the courtroom,” Noman said.

Bangladesh has seen a dramatic rise in the number of rape cases in recent months, with 217 women and children raped in September, the highest in any single month since 2010, according to a report published by Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, a women’s rights group.

Many more cases go unreported because women fear being stigmatized. Rights activists attribute the increasing number of rapes to a lack of awareness, a culture of impunity, moral decadence, and people of influence protecting suspected rapists for political reasons.

Even when survivors file a complaint, prosecution is very rare and takes years to conclude.

“This verdict has set an example. It shows that with utmost sincerity we can ensure justice within our existing system,” said the group’s head, Ayesha Khanam.

(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani & Simon Cameron-Moore)

Federal prosecutors to fight Boston Marathon bomber’s appeal

FILE PHOTO: A pedestrian walks past a memorial for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings and its aftermath near the race's finish line, on the second day of jury selection in the trial of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in Boston, Massachusetts January 6, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

BOSTON (Reuters) – Prosecutors on Thursday will urge a federal appeals court to uphold Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s conviction and death penalty sentence for helping carry out the 2013 attack, which killed three people and wounded more than 260 others.

The U.S. Justice Department is expected to file a brief urging the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston to reject Tsarnaev’s arguments that he was deprived of a fair trial when a judge declined to move the case out of the city rocked by one of the highest-profile attacks on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001.

Their arguments are due by midnight EDT (0400 GMT Friday).

Defense lawyers in a brief filed in December acknowledged that their client, then 19, carried out the April 15, 2013, attack along with his 26-year-old brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who died in a gunbattle with police days later.

But they argued that wall-to-wall media coverage of the bombings meant that nearly the entire jury pool was exposed to news about the attacks, which included “heart-wrenching stories about the homicide victims, the wounded and their families.”

Many victims of the blasts at the packed finished line of the race lost legs.

Defense lawyers said U.S. District Judge George O’Toole also ignored evidence that two jurors had commented on the case on social media before being picked and prevented the defense from telling jurors about Tsarnaev’s brother’s ties to a 2011 triple murder.

That evidence, they said, would have supported their sentencing-related argument that Tsarnaev was a junior partner in a scheme run by his older brother, “an angry and violent man” who had embraced radical Islam.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, now 25, is a prisoner in the federal “Supermax” facility in Florence, Colorado.

Prosecutors in a filing earlier this month previewing their opposition brief said they planned to argue that Tsarnaev’s right to a fair trial was not violated.

A federal jury in 2015 found Tsarnaev guilty of placing a pair of homemade pressure-cooker bombs near the finish line of the world-renowned race, as well as fatally shooting a policeman three days later.

The bombing killed three people: Martin Richard, 8; Chinese exchange student Lingzi Lu, 26, and restaurant manager Krystle Campbell. Tsarnaev shot dead Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier, 26.

A park dedicated to Richard’s memory opened this month on the Boston waterfront.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Scott Malone and Susan Thomas)

Boston Marathon bomber appeals conviction, death sentence

FILE PHOTO: People hold candles during a vigil at the Town Common in Wilmington, Massachusetts, April 20, 2013. REUTERS/Dominick Reuter

By Nate Raymond

BOSTON (Reuters) – Lawyers for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on Thursday asked an appellate court to overturn his conviction and death penalty sentence for helping carry out the 2013 attack, which killed three people and wounded more than 260 others.

Lawyers for Tsarnaev, 25, argued in a brief filed with the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston that a lower-court judge’s refusal to move the case to another city not traumatized by the bombings deprived him of a fair trial.

FILE PHOTO: A photograph of Djohar Tsarnaev, who is believed to be Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing, is seen on his page of Russian social networking site Vkontakte (VK), as pictured on a monitor in St. Petersburg April 19, 2013. REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk

FILE PHOTO: A photograph of Djohar Tsarnaev, who is believed to be Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing, is seen on his page of Russian social networking site Vkontakte (VK), as pictured on a monitor in St. Petersburg April 19, 2013. REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk

The attorneys acknowledged that their client, then 19, carried out the attack along with his now-deceased 26-year-old brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

But they argued that wall-to-wall media coverage of the bombings meant that nearly the entire jury pool was exposed to news about the attacks, which included “heart-wrenching stories about the homicide victims, the wounded and their families.”

“The pre-trial publicity was damning: the more a prospective juror had seen, the more likely she was to believe that Tsarnaev was guilty and deserved the death penalty,” Tsarnaev’s lawyers wrote in a 500-page brief.

They said U.S. District Judge George O’Toole also ignored evidence that two jurors had commented on the case on social media before being picked and prevented the defense from telling jurors about Tsarnaev’s brother’s ties to a 2011 triple murder.

That evidence, they said, would have supported their sentencing-related argument that Tsarnaev was a junior partner in a scheme run by his older brother, “an angry and violent man” who had embraced radical Islam.

The appeal came after a federal jury in 2015 found Tsarnaev guilty of placing a pair of homemade pressure-cooker bombs near the finish line of the world-renowned race on April 15, 2013, as well as fatally shooting a policeman three days later.

The same jury later found that Tsarnaev deserved execution for six of the 17 capital charges of which he was found guilty, which were related to the bomb he personally placed at the marathon’s finish line.

That bomb killed 8-year-old Martin Richard, the youngest fatality, and 23-year-old Chinese exchange student Lingzi Lu. The bombing was one of the highest-profile attacks on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001.

Tsarnaev’s brother died after a gunfight with police four days after the bombing, which ended when Tsarnaev ran him over with a stolen car.

The manhunt for Tsarnaev ended when he was found hiding in a boat dry-docked in Watertown, Massachusetts.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; editing by Leslie Adler and Tom Brown)