Judge strikes 'betrayal of US' as factor in seeking death penalty for Boston bombing suspect

The Associated Press
June 18, 2014 07:24 AM

FILE - This file photo provided April 19, 2013 by the Federal Bureau of Investigation shows Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. During a hearing Wednesday, June 18, 2014 a federal judge in Boston warned current and ex-members of prosecution team in the case from speaking publicly. Tsarnaev's trial is scheduled to begin in November. (AP Photo/Federal Bureau of Investigation, File)

BOSTON - A federal judge ruled Wednesday that "betrayal of the United States" should not be a factor in considering whether Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev gets the death penalty if convicted.

A U.S. District Court judge said it was "highly inappropriate" for prosecutors to draw a distinction between a "naturalized" and "natural-born" U.S. citizen.

Tsarnaev's lawyers, meanwhile, asked to have his trial moved to Washington, D.C. In a motion filed Wednesday, the attorney said their preliminary survey of the attitudes of potential jurors in Boston and other cities found Washington would be the most favourable location for a trial. The lawyers say they need to further study the issue before the trial, scheduled for November.

Federal prosecutors have argued, in part, that Tsarnaev, now 20, deserves the death penalty because he betrayed his allegiance to the country that granted him asylum and, later, citizenship. Tsarnaev lived in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan and later in Russia before moving to the U.S. with his family at age 8.

"Just seven months after swearing an oath to defend his adopted country and stand by his fellow Americans, Tsarnaev violated the oath by attacking America and terrorizing and murdering people on American soil," U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz's office wrote in an April filing. "He did so, by his own account, to punish America for the actions of American soldiers who, in fulfilling their own oaths to protect and defend the Constitution, were waging a war against terrorism overseas."

Tsarnaev's attorneys have said that argument is unprecedented in death penalty cases.

"(I)n not one of the 492 cases before Mr. Tsarnaev's has the government cited the fact of a defendant's American citizenship, the way he became a citizen, any aspect of his immigration history, or his enjoyment of the freedoms of an American citizen as a reason to sentence him to death," they wrote in a May filing.

Prosecutors say Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan, planted two bombs that exploded near the finish line of the 2013 marathon, killing three people and injured about 260 others. Tamerlan died following a shootout with police several days later.

The betrayal argument was among a number of factors prosecutors cited in January when they gave the court notice of their intent to pursue the death penalty. Others were Tsarnaev's apparent "lack of remorse," the "substantial planning and premeditation" in involved in executing the attack and the bombers' decision to specifically target the city's "iconic" marathon.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty to 30 federal charges.

The judge also denied a request by Tsarnaev's lawyers to allow them to meet with their client and his sisters in prison without federal agents present. Instead, he accepted a compromise offered by prosecutors: assigning an agent or other federal official not related to the case, strictly for security.

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