Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Could Become Just the Fourth Person to Die for a Federal Crime in 30 Years

The Boston Marathon bomber was sentenced to death Friday.

National Journal

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was sentenced to death Friday for the 2013 Boston marathon bombings, would be only be the fourth person in nearly 30 years to die for a federal crime.

A Boston jury sentenced Tsarnaev to death on six out of a possible 17 counts, despite opposition to the sentence from the family of one of the marathon bombing's victims.

The Obama administration has generally been hesitant to seek the death penalty. But then-Attorney General Eric Holder said the severity of the Boston marathon bombing warranted the death penalty, and his successor, Loretta Lynch, echoed that sentiment Friday.

"The ultimate penalty is a fitting punishment for this horrific crime and we hope that the completion of this prosecution will bring some measure of closure to the victims and their families," Lynch said in a statement.

Tsarnaev can still appeal his sentence in a process that could take years. But if he is put to death, he would only be the fourth person executed since federal capital punishment was reinstated in 1988.

According to the Federal Death Penalty Resource Council, the federal government has pursued the death penalty against 498 defendants since 1988. In most of those cases, the government dropped the death penalty as part of a plea deal. A few defendants were found not guilty, and when the question of life or death reached a jury, juries chose life sentences most of the time.

Juries have only handed down 80 federal death sentences since 1988, and only three people have been executed: Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh in 2001; Juan Raul Garza, also in 2001, for his role in the murder of several members of a drug-smuggling operation; and Louis Jones, Jr. in 2003 for rape and murder.