Dzhokhar Tsarnaev already admitted to his role in planning and executing the Boston Marathon bombing. Today's guilty verdict is just a prelude to his sentencing trial.
In many ways though, this hardly matters. The jury in this case already knew Tsarnaev was guilty. He confessed to his participation in the attack in a handwritten message that he scrawled inside the boat where he hid from law enforcement officers. And his attorney, Judy Clarke, admitted to jurors up front that they had the right man in custody. "It was him," she declared at the beginning of the trial.
So Wednesday's guilty verdict was long expected, and the fact that there was not a single charge on which the jurors declined to convict Tsarnaev is no surprise either. What mattered before today and what matters going forward is whether Tsarnaev will be sentenced to the death penalty or not.
Massachusetts has not had the death penalty since 1984, and Bostonians lean so heavily against it that a 2013 Boston Globe poll found that 57 percent of the city would prefer to see Tsarnaev sentenced to life without parole. But Tsarnaev's case fell under federal jurisdiction, not local, and despite federal death penalty cases being rare, prosecutors are expected to seek a death sentence this time because they consider Tsarnaev's pressure-cooker bombs to be weapons of mass destruction. Of the 30 charges Tsarnaev faced, 17 are considered capital crimes.
Defense attorneys working for Tsarnaev have focused their entire case on the notion that Dzhokhar had fallen under the influence of his older brother and co-conspirator, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The younger Tsarnaev, they've argued, would never have been involved in the bombings were it not for the older Tsarnaev. That line of reasoning is expected to be the focus of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s sentencing trial, which could start as early as next week and will feature the same 12 jurors as the first phase of the trial.
As the Boston Herald explains, should the jurors choose to sentence Tsarnaev to a death sentence, U.S. District Court Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. cannot overturn that decision. But if they fail to reach a unanimous decision either way, Judge O’Toole must automatically impose life without parole.