Supreme Court Justices Snap in Tense Exchange Over Boston Bomber Death Sentence

Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Elena Kagan clashed in a rare testy exchange between justices on the bench Wednesday as the Supreme Court considered whether an appeals court was justified in overturning Boston Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s death sentence.

Tsarnaev was sentenced to death for his role in the 2013 bombings, which he carried out along with his brother Tamerlan, who died while attempting to flee the police shortly after the attack. The district court’s 2015 death sentence was overturned by an appeals court over alleged improper handling of the jury’s media consumption and the court’s exclusion of allegedly mitigating evidence during the sentencing phase.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Kagan grilled government lawyer Eric Feigin specifically about mitigating evidence the defense was not allowed to introduce: that Tamerlan may have been involved in a jihad-related triple-murder two years before the Boston Bombing. This evidence was relevant, the defense said, because it bolstered its argument that Dzhokhar would not have committed the bombing if it weren’t for his domineering older brother’s influence.

The government and district court argued that the evidence on those murders was not particularly strong. But Kagan asked Feigin to “assume” that the evidence was strong: What should the district court have done then? she asked.
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