A federal appeals court has overturned the death sentence of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev due to issues in the jury vetting process, WBZ-TV reported. Tsarnaev will spend the rest of his life in prison.
In 2015, Tsarnaev was sentenced to death for his role in the 2013 terrorist attack, which killed three people and wounded hundreds of others, and a later gunfight with police which killed one officer and severely wounded another.
Tsarnaev's lawyers never denied that he and his brother, Tamerlan, detonated the two bombs at the finish line of the race. However, his team argued that it was Tamerlan, who later died following a police shoot-out, who was the mastermind of the attack, and that Tsarnaev was less culpable.
A jury didn't see things that way and sentenced him to death. He has spent the last few years behind bars at a supermax prison in Colorado.
Tsarnaev's defense team had appealed the death penalty ruling, citing a host of issues with his trial, including why the proceedings were not moved out of Boston.
The main sticking point was the jury-vetting process. Specifically, on the day before the trial started, it was revealed that two jurors had made posts on social media suggesting that they'd harbored "strong opinions" on the matter before it went to trial. One juror, who later became the jury foreman, had posted dozens of tweets, including one after Tsarnaev's capture that called him a "piece of garbage."
Tsarnaev's team wanted to know why the jurors were not immediately dismissed or, at the very least, asked follow-up questions about the posts before the trial started.
In the ruling, which can be read in its entirety here, a three-judge panel agreed.
"A core promise of our criminal-justice system is that even the very worst among us deserves to be fairly tried and lawfully punished," the ruling reads, in part, going on to note that in Tsarnaev's case, he was not given a fair trial -- at least, when it came to his being sentenced to death.
The judgment requires a new jury to be impaneled and for Tsarnaev to be given a new trial that will deal only with his sentencing on the death-eligible counts. That means that, though he has escaped the death penalty for now, it may yet be re-imposed on him at his next trial.
"But make no mistake: Dzhokhar will spend his remaining days locked up in prison, with the only matter remaining being whether he will die by execution," the judges said.