Tsarnaev's Fate to Be Decided: 5 Things to Know
The sentencing phase begins today in Boston
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 21, 2015 9:15 AM CDT
In this March 5, 2015, file courtroom sketch, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, center, is depicted between defense attorneys Miriam Conrad, left, and Judy Clarke, right.   (AP Photo/Jane Flavell Collins, File)

(Newser) – Today marks the start of the second phase of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's trial in federal court, in which a jury will determine whether he should be sentenced to death or spend the rest of his life in prison with no chance of parole. What you need to know:

  1. How this phase will differ: Tsarnaev's lawyers were clear about his involvement in the bombings, so the guilty verdicts were expected. What will happen in the penalty phase is anyone's guess, which the New York Times predicts will make for a "far more contentious, emotional, and unpredictable" phase.
  2. What do the victims want? They're split, with many staunchly against death, with their reasons ranging from the likelihood of a drawn-out appeals process following a death sentence to its inability to truly bring peace to those affected. Indeed, the Boston Globe cites records showing most federal convicts facing death spend at least 10 years mired in appeals while on death row.

  1. The how, how long, and how likely: Presiding Judge George O'Toole Jr. is predicting a roughly four-week trial; the jury must unanimously decide on death; and the Globe counts that in 232 federal death penalty cases since 1988, death was handed out 34% of the time.
  2. Who will say what: The defense will continue to paint Tsarnaev's brother, Tamerlan, as having a significant influence over him; prosecutors are expected to emphasize the heinous nature of the bombings and have more survivors testify, reports the AP. The witness lists aren't yet public; the Times notes it's unclear if any of Tsarnaev's family members will testify.
  3. The Massachusetts angle: The AP cites polls that show a majority of Boston-area residents would prefer to see Tsarnaev handed life. The Globe points to the state's history as part of the reason why. The death penalty was done away with there in 1984, and no one had been executed in the state in the four decades prior. In the two previous federal death penalty cases the state has seen, the jury decided on death in one instance, though that's since been overturned and a sentencing retrial is planned for September, reports the Boston Herald.