Boston Bomber's Execution Date Won't Be Set For A While, And Here's Why

On Friday, at 21 years of age, the Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was sentenced to death, signalling the closure of one of the city's most painful chapters in history. Though many did not expect the death sentence — partly due to his age as he was 19 when he and older brother, Tamerlan, planted the pressure cooker bombs at the end of the marathon's finish line — it had remained a substantial possibility throughout the trial. Now that the ruling has been handed out, when will Dzhokhar Tsarnaev be executed?

Tsarnaev's case will now automatically be appealed to a higher federal court, beginning a process that could take years, perhaps even decades, to hash out. If trends of death row inmates are an indication, all signs point to him languishing on death row for years. If the first appeal fails, Tsarnaev's attorneys have a number of avenues for appeals, including petitions to the U.S. Supreme Court and the president, as they continue fighting to save the Chechen-born's life.

Tsarnaev's death sentence is the first for a federal jury of a terrorist, post 9/11, Kevin McNally, director of the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project, told The New York Times. The last terrorist who was handed the death penalty was the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, who was sentenced in 1997 and executed by lethal injection in 2001.

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The sentence is incredibly rare for a federal jury; the last person who was handed a death penalty in a federal court was Louis Jones in 2003, who was sentenced in 1995 for murdering a female soldier. Both SCOTUS and President George W. Bush refused to block Jones' execution, which was finally carried out eight years later. Since 2011, the federal government has had a moratorium on all executions as the Justice Department reviews its execution of the Bureau of Prison's federal protocol.

Bleak statistics point to a draconian attempt at justice through the death penalty. Numbers from the Justice Bureau show that there has been a steady overall rise in the average time between when a criminal was sentenced to death and the date of his or her execution.

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According to the Justice Bureau, in 2012, the latest year for which statistics are available, the average waiting time in between a sentence and execution was a stunning 190 months, or almost 16 years.

While the debate surrounding the death penalty has taken on renewed intensity since the beginning of Tsarnaev's federal trial, opponents of the death penalty point to the fact the U.S. takes an inhumanely long time to execute inmates. The justice systems in other countries consider the decades-long prospect of imminent execution a form of psychological torment.

Tsarnaev's attorneys, in the battle to save his life, had tried to portray him as an impressionable teenager who had no parental support, and was swayed by his strong-willed older brother, Tamerlan. A number of victims of the 2013 bombing had vocally opposed the federal court seeking the death penalty for Tsarnaev.

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