EXPERT: Death Penalty showdown may loom in Massachusetts following Holder decision on Boston Bombing suspect

AMHERST, Mass. – If U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder approves pursuing the death penalty against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the defendant in the Boston Marathon bombings last April that killed three people and injured 260, that sets up an interesting scenario in Massachusetts, a leading death penalty expert says.

“Given what the polls show, most people in Massachusetts do not support the death penalty, and do not want a capital prosecution in this case,” said Austin Sarat, Professor of Law and Political Science at Amherst College and author of "When the State Kills: Capital Punishment and the American Condition" (Princeton University Press). “If the Justice Department decides to seek the death penalty in this case, we have another instance of federal imposition in a state without the death penalty.”

On the other hand, Sarat noted that neither President Barack Obama nor the Justice Department have taken an official stance against capital punishment.

“Even though Holder has said he personally opposes capital punishment, under his Justice Department one defendant has been sentenced to death,” Sarat said. “There also are political considerations, and concerns about how bombing victims and their families would react to a decision not to seek the death penalty.”

“This will be another opportunity for the Justice Department to take a tough stand in the war on terror,” Sarat added. “Imagine how this will play out on Fox News if the decision is made NOT to seek the death penalty.”