Boston Marathon Bomber Sentenced to Death – What Happens Next?

Given the sentencing hearing, prison assignment and appeal process, death by lethal injection may take years to carry out.

Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
In this courtroom sketch, Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev listens as a death by lethal injection sentence is read at the Moakley Federal court, May 15, 2015. AP

Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was sentenced to death by lethal injection, but he won't be executed for years — maybe decades — as the appeals process runs its course. The next step is a formal imposition of the sentence. Then, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons will decide where he'll be housed.

Sentencing hearing

Judge George O'Toole Jr. will schedule a sentencing hearing to formally impose the sentence. Survivors of the bombing will be given a chance to give victim impact statements. Tsarnaev also will be allowed to speak if he chooses. It's unclear how many victims the judge will allow to make statements.

Prison assignment

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons could send Tsarnaev to the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, which has a special unit for death row inmates and is where Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was executed. If he had been sentenced to life, he would likely have been sent to the U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado. The Supermax prison is the highest-security prison in the U.S. and houses some of the country's most notorious criminals, including Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph and 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui.

Appeal process

Tsarnaev could spend years appealing his death sentence. Seventy-four people have been sentenced to death since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988, but only three have been executed. Tsarnaev's lawyers fought unsuccessfully to move his trial out of Massachusetts, where they argued there was too much of an emotional impact to find truly impartial jurors. The change-of-venue issue may be one of the grounds for appeal. The federal government has had a moratorium on executions since 2010 due to a review of the protocol used by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.