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In addition to the use of a weapon of mass destruction, the crimes that carry the death penalty include: bombing of a place of public use resulting in death; possession and use of a firearm during a crime of violence resulting in death; and malicious destruction of property resulting in personal injury and death.
If a jury convicts Tsarnaev, it will then hold a second phase of the trial to determine his punishment.
Juries are asked to weigh aggravating factors cited by the government against mitigating factors raised by the defense in deciding whether a defendant should be executed. In Tsarnaev’s case, mitigating factors could include his young age and claims that he played a secondary role in the crime.
Massachusetts abolished its own death penalty in 1984, and repeated attempts to reinstate it have failed in the Legislature. A Boston Globe poll conducted in September found that 57 percent of those questioned favored a life sentence for Tsarnaev, while 33 percent supported the death penalty for him.
Jurors for federal cases tried in Boston are drawn from the Boston metropolitan area and eastern Massachusetts — a politically liberal region, but also the part of the state most directly affected by the tragedy.
Two other federal death penalty cases have been brought in Massachusetts. A former veterans hospital nurse who killed four patients by overdosing them was spared the death penalty by a jury. A man accused in the carjack killings of two Massachusetts men was sentenced to death in 2003, but the punishment was overturned and he is awaiting a new penalty trial.
Since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988, 70 death sentences have been imposed, but only three have been carried out, including the execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh in 2001.
The last federal execution was in 2003, when Gulf War veteran Louis Jones Jr. was put to death for kidnapping 19-year-old Army Pvt. Tracie McBride from a Texas military base, raping her and beating her to death with a tire iron.
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