Report: Tsarnaev Attorneys, DOJ In Preliminary Talks About Deal To Avoid Death Penalty

CNN is reporting that there have been some kind of discussions between the attorneys representing Dzhokar Tsarnaev and the Department of Justice regarding a deal that would result in Tsarnaev cooperating with investigators in exchange for taking the death penalty of the table:

Washington (CNN) – Some very preliminary talks have been under way “for the past few days” to potentially allow Boston bomb suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to resume providing investigators with information about the attacks in exchange for having the death penalty taken off the table, two government sources say.

The sources said such initial communications between opposing sides on a range of procedural and other issues are standard procedure.

Communications are in the very early stages, and not a sign lawyers for either side are ready to make a deal, said one source, who did not want to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the private discussions. The source emphasized these are not formal negotiations, and no deals have been offered.

The discussions between prosecution and defense attorneys are at a “preliminary, delicate stage” and both refused to offer details of what either side would be willing to leverage, according to the sources. A Justice Department official said it is not accurate to suggest there are negotiations.

“The notion that we are engaging in discussions over a penalty is not accurate,” the official said. “As far as I know, there are no negotiations.”

The Daily Mail has a similar report and it’s also worth noting that, yesterday, Tsarnaev’s legal team was bolstered by the addition of Judy Clarke, who has represented everyone from Susan Smith, Zacarias Moussaoui the so-called “19th hijacker” who was nabbed in Minnesota just weeks before the September 11th attacks, “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski and, most recently, Jared Loughner. In each of these cases she was able to spare her clients from the death penalty, which it seems to me is clearly the legal strategy that Tsarnaev’s attorneys are aiming for as well. Based on what we already know about the evidence the government has against him, it doesn’t seem as though there’s any question about his guilt, and it’s unlikely the defense would get very far if they truly aimed for an acquittal. Instead, if the case does go to trial they’re likely to limit their defense to challenging the government’s evidence as best they can and save their biggest fire for the penalty phase of the trial. Alternatively, they are likely to try at some point to negotiate a plea deal that spares Tsarnaev’s life. It appears that these “preliminary talks,” which I don’t think we can fairly call plea negotiations just yet, are the beginning of that process. I wouldn’t expect to see anything formal any time soon, it’s still very early in the case and neither side can fairly be said to be in a position to discuss something like final resolution of the case just yet. Nonetheless, it appears that the defense is hinting that Tsarnaev may have information that the authorities would be interested if the price were right. It will be up to the prosecution, and ultimately officials in Washington, to decide whether or not they want to take any deal that is offered in the future.

H/T: Ed Morrissey

FILED UNDER: Crime, Law and the Courts, Terrorism, , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Brett says:

    That doesn’t surprise me. Richard Reed, the Underpants Bomber, and Times Square Bombers all pleaded guilty in exchange for avoiding the death penalty.

    I think it might be a crueler punishment, too. Dhozkar is 19, and now he gets to look forward to spending the next 50-60 years in a super-max prison.

  2. CSK says:

    If he pleads guilty and offers information in exchange for a life imprisonment sentence, there won’t be a trial. He can always look forward to having his sentence commuted in 40 or 50 years, can’t he?

  3. stonetools says:

    I expect that this case will be resolved by plea bargain, and fairly quickly, too. The DP is a heck of a hammer.

  4. CSK says:

    Given the evidence against him, plus the testimony of the carjacking victim, who appears to be sane, intelligent, and articulate, that the younger brother claimed not only to have set off the bombs at the Marathon but also claimed he killed the MIT police officer, it would seem that Dzhokhar would be better off copping a plea–if one is offered.

    The Middlesex County DA’s office is building a case against Dzhokhar for the murder of the MIT officer and the attempted murder of the transit police officer. In addition to that, there are some additional charges involving assault with intent to commit murder/grievous bodily harm with respect to the cops who were injured by flying shrapnel from the pipe bombs the brothers tossed from the hijacked car during the chase.