CRIME

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Boston Bombing Suspect, Has Life Or Death Resting In Attorney General

12/01/2013 11:18 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

He is accused of killing three people and injuring hundreds more in a bombing that shook Boston and the nation.

Now, the decision whether or not to pursue the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev may prove complicated in the weeks to come.

The decision lies with Attorney General Eric Holder, who is set to make a decision within the next several weeks. But Holder will have to consider how Americans want to see justice, and how viable the federal death penalty will be considering its slow and often unreliable past.

USA Today reports that only three offenders have been executed since the federal death penalty returned in 1988. Of those three deaths, none have occurred in the past 10 years.

In high-profile cases of criminals who were sentenced decades ago to death, appeals and recent challenges to the lethal injection protocol used in federal executions have prolonged their lives.

For Tsarnaev, it's becoming increasingly unclear if he will go to trial facing the death penalty, or life in prison.

Although a poll conducted in May by The Washington Post revealed that 70 percent of those surveyed were in favor of Tsarnaev getting the death penalty, it will ultimately come down to a Massachusetts jury.

Massachusetts has been a state long against the death penalty. A recent survey taken by The Boston Globe asking readers whether or not they would support the death penalty in the case of Tsarnaev revealed unsurprising results.

Only 33 percent of those surveyed thought the bombing suspect should be tried for the death penalty, with 57 percent supporting a life sentence instead.

"It's one thing for the government to be willing to impose the death penalty; it will be a lot harder to find people in Massachusetts to serve on a jury who would vote for the death penalty,'' said Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. "It's not terribly surprising given that it is Massachusetts.''

Holder will also have to consider Tsarnaev's youth, and whether or not his older brother may have intimidated him into taking part in the bombings, Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told USA Today.

Aitan Goelman, a former federal prosecutor who assisted in the Oklahoma City prosecution of bomber Timothy McVeigh -- who was executed in 2001 -- said he believes Holder will pursue the death penalty option.

"If you put a bomb down in a crowd, it becomes one of those cases where you say, 'If not now, when do you ever certify a case as a death penalty case?'" Goelman said.

It's a question Holder will have to ponder as Boston waits for the final word on Tsarnaev's fate.

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