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Although a jury handed down the death penalty last month, a judge formally sentenced Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death today for his role in the Boston Marathon bombing that killed three and injured hundreds more.
While the sentencing in some ways felt like a mere formality, it was noteworthy for those who spoke during the nearly four hour hearing. Two dozen survivors and family members of the victims were allowed to give victim impact statements, and Tsarnaev himself addressed the court and the victims for the first time.
The judge in this case was not allowed to alter the jury verdict that sentenced Tsarnaev to death by lethal injection. However, victim impact statements are considered during some formal sentencing hearings. During the 1970s, there was more focus on victims' rights in the criminal justice system and impact statements became allowed at federal sentencing hearings. Since Tsarnaev was convicted of federal crimes in federal court, victims and their families could submit statements as part of the sentencing hearing.
The statements today lasted for nearly three hours and covered a wide range of emotions. While some survivors have called for mercy for Tsarnaev, most of those who spoke today were satisfied with the verdict, and even defiant. Rebekah Gregory, who lost her left leg in the bombing, reportedly told Tsarnaev, "We are Boston strong and we are America strong, and choosing to mess with us was a terrible idea."
Many of the voices from today's hearing had already been heard at trial, save one. Tsarnaev himself, who did not testify on his own behalf during either the guilt or the sentencing stages of his trial, broke his silence today:
"I'd like to now apologize to the victims and the survivors. I am sorry for the lives I have taken and suffering I have caused you and the damage I have done."
After this short statement, the judge formally handed down Tsarnaev's death sentence. The actual date for his execution could still be years away.
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