Well before the attorney general’s decision came down, Tsarnaev’s defense team added Judy Clarke, one of the nation’s foremost death penalty specialists. The San Diego lawyer has negotiated plea agreements that saved the lives of such clients as the Unabomber and Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph.
Legal experts have said that court filings suggest the defense may try to save Tsarnaev’s life by arguing that he fell under the evil influence of his older brother.
“I think their focus ... will probably be to characterize it as coercion, intimidation and just his will being overborne by the older brother,” said Gerry Leone, a former state and federal prosecutor in Boston who secured a conviction against shoe bomber Richard Reid.
“They’ll, say, talk about how he was a teenager, never been in trouble before, and in many respects, looks like the average United States college student.”
In addition to the use of a weapon of mass destruction, the crimes that carry the death penalty include: bombing of a place of public use resulting in death; possession and use of a firearm during a crime of violence resulting in death; and malicious destruction of property resulting in personal injury and death.
If a jury convicts Tsarnaev, it will then hold a second phase of the trial to determine his punishment.
Juries are asked to weigh aggravating factors cited by the government against mitigating factors raised by the defense in deciding whether a defendant should be executed. In Tsarnaev’s case, mitigating factors could include his young age and claims that he played a secondary role in the crime.
Massachusetts abolished its own death penalty in 1984, and repeated attempts to reinstate it have failed in the Legislature. A Boston Globe poll conducted in September found that 57 percent of those questioned favored a life sentence for Tsarnaev, while 33 percent supported the death penalty for him.