BOSTON — A federal appeals court on Friday overturned the death sentence of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was convicted of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, and ordered a new penalty-phase trial.
The ruling, from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, concluded that the presiding judge in the 2015 trial, George A. O’Toole, “did not meet the standard” of fairness, in part because he did not sufficiently scrutinize jurors’ exposure to the bombing.
Lawyers for Mr. Tsarnaev had pointed to 22 Twitter posts and retweets by the jury’s forewoman that had not been disclosed as part of jury screening.
His defense team had argued that it was impossible to select an impartial jury in Boston, a city that was gripped by powerful emotions after the bombing and deluged with pretrial publicity.
“A core promise of our criminal justice system is that even the very worst among us deserves to be fairly tried and lawfully punished,” Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson wrote for the court.
The ruling went on to say that “just to be crystal clear,” Mr. Tsarnaev “will remain confined to prison for the rest of his life, with the only question remaining being whether the government will end his life by executing him.”
The federal death sentence was a rare event in Massachusetts, which has no death penalty for state crimes.
Mr. Tsarnaev’s older brother, Tamerlan, was also a suspect in the bombings and killed in a shootout with the police days after the attacks at one of the most famous races in the world.
The bombings near the finish line killed three people and injured 260 more, many of them grievously. Seventeen people lost limbs.