Dzhokar Tsarnaev

Court overturns Boston Marathon bomber's death penalty

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26 and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, (picture) 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 went into hiding

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US PRESS GROUP

Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has had his death sentence overturned by a federal appeals court. The three-judge panel of the 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston issued the decision on Friday more than six months after arguments were heard in the case.

Tsarnaev and his older brother Tamerlan set off a pair of homemade pressure-cooker bombs near the Boston Marathon finish line in 2013 in an attack that killed three people and injured more than 260 others.

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 two of the victims.

While the appeals judges upheld much of Tsarnaev's conviction, they ordered a lower-court judge to hold a new trial strictly over what sentence he should receive for the death penalty-eligible crimes he was convicted of.

US Circuit Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson, writing for the court, said that the trial judge 'fell short' in conducting the jury selection process and ensuring it could identify partial jurors exposed to pretrial publicity surrounding the high-profile case.

Thompson said the pervasive news coverage of the bombings and their aftermath featured 'bone-chilling' photos and videos of Tsarnaev and his brother carrying backpacks at the marathon and of those injured and killed near its finish line.

She said the trial judge allowed his jury to include jurors who had 'already formed an opinion that Dzhokhar was guilty - and he did so in large part because they answered 'yes' to the question whether they could decide this high-profile case based on the evidence'.

Tsarnaev's lawyers have long argued that intense media coverage of the bombing had made it impossible to have a fair trial in Boston.

They pointed to social media posts from two jurors suggesting they harbored strong opinions even before the 2015 trial started. The appeals judges, in a hearing on the case in early December, devoted a significant number of questions to the juror bias argument.

They asked why the two jurors had not been dismissed, or at least why the trial judge had not asked them follow-up questions after the posts came to light on the eve of the trial.

The judges noted that the Boston court has a longstanding rule obligating such an inquiry.

Tsarnaev's lawyers say one of the jurors, who would go one to become the jury's foreperson, or chief spokesperson, published two dozen tweets in the wake of the bombings.

One post after Tsarnaev's capture called him a 'piece of garbage.'

Tsarnaev was convicted on 30 charges, including conspiracy and use of a weapon of mass destruction. He has been serving his sentence in a high-security supermax prison in Colorado.

His brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was killed in a gun battle with police days after the two brothers detonated two pressure cooker bombs near the marathon finish line.