A federal appeals court has overturned the Boston Marathon bomber’s death sentence.
The decision by a three-judge panel says that the judge that oversaw the original case did not adequately screen the jury for potential biases.
A new sentencing hearing has been ordered to decide whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be executed. His conviction stands.
“But make no mistake: Dzhokhar will spend his remaining days locked up in prison, with the only matter remaining being whether he will die by execution,” the panel said.
Dzhokhar and his older brother Tamerlan detonated two bombs, made from pressure cookers, at the finish line of the 2013 marathon, killing three and injuring 260.
After going on the run for a few days, Tamerlan was killed in a shoot-out with police. Dzhokhar was apprehended the following evening.
The defence team acknowledged at the start of the subsequent trial that the brothers had set off the bombs, but argued that Tamerlan, not Dzhokhar, had planned the attack and the younger brother was easily manipulated.
Dzhokhar is currently incarcerated at a high-security supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, on 30 charges, including conspiracy and use of a weapon of mass destruction.
His lawyers argue that the 2015 trial was flawed for a number of reasons, including the judge’s refusal to move the case out of the Boston area. They also cited social media posts by two jurors that showed they had strong opinions about the case.
The panel of appeals judges questioned why the two jurors had not been dismissed or asked about the posts, given they had come to light before the trial began. It was noted that the Boston court has a rule obligating such questioning.
The posts included a tweet by the juror who would become the jury’s foreperson that referred to Dzhokhar as a “piece of garbage”.
The 182-page appeals court opinion states: ”A core promise of our criminal justice system is that even the very worst among us deserves to be fairly tried and lawfully punished.”
NBC News reports a spokesperson for Andrew Lelling, Boston’s US Attorney, as saying that the office is reviewing the decision and will have more to say “in the coming days and weeks”.
With reporting from The Associated Press