I know that state budgets have improved over the past few years and government waste can once again be tolerated, but the charade announced in Massachusetts on Saturday takes the cake. Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan plans to bring state murder charges against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who has already been sentenced to death, in a federal trial, for the deadly bomb attack at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon.
The feeble justification for this patent publicity grab is that a guilty verdict in state court could keep Tsarnaev in prison if he successfully appeals his federal convictions. Ryan noted that: “[W]hen you come into Middlesex County and execute a police officer in the performance of his duties and assault other officers attempting to effect his capture, it is appropriate you should come back to Middlesex County to stand trial for that offense.”
So let’s get this right, the direct appeal of Tsarnaev’s federal conviction and the §2255 litigation that follows will probably take five years to complete and will add millions to the millions already spent to date. The chance of success on appeal for Tsarnaev is probably less than 1% and his chance of success in his §2255 litigation is slim to none—after all, he had great representation appointed to defend him at trial. Even if the feds abolish the death penalty and commute all death sentences, Tsarnaev will still be in federal prison for the rest of his life.
Nonetheless, given these insurmountable odds against success, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts wants to put a life sentence place holder on Tsarnaev (there is no death penalty in state court in Massachusetts). That makes absolutely no sense given that Tsarnaev has no motivation to do anything other than go to trial. After he’s convicted and sentenced to serve life in prison, his case will be tied up in state court appeals and post-conviction for a longer time than he’ll experience in federal court.
In the end, I think Massachusetts can do a helluva lot more productive things with the millions it’ll hemorrhage on the Tsarnaev retrial!