BOSTON — Federal prosecutors said Thursday they will seek the death penalty against 20-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in the Boston Marathon bombing, accusing him of betraying his adopted country by ruthlessly carrying out a terrorist attack calculated to cause maximum carnage.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to press for Tsarnaev's execution was widely expected. The twin blasts last April killed three people and wounded more than 260, and more than half of the 30 federal charges against Tsarnaev — including using a weapon of mass destruction to kill — carry a possible death sentence.
"The nature of the conduct at issue and the resultant harm compel this decision," Holder said in a statement of just two terse and dispassionate sentences that instantly raised the stakes in one of the most wrenching criminal cases Boston has ever seen.
Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty. No trial date has been set.
In a notice of intent filed in court, federal prosecutors in Boston listed factors they contend justify a sentence of death against Tsarnaev, who moved to the United States from Russia about a decade ago.
"Dzhokhar Tsarnaev received asylum from the United States; obtained citizenship and enjoyed the freedoms of a United States citizen; and then betrayed his allegiance to the United States by killing and maiming people in the United States," read the notice filed by U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz.
Prosecutors also cited Tsarnaev's "lack of remorse" and allegations that he killed an MIT police officer as well as an 8-year-old boy, a "particularly vulnerable" victim because of his age. They also said Tsarnaev committed the killings after "substantial planning and premeditation."
In addition, they cited his alleged decision to target the Boston Marathon, "an iconic event that draws large crowds of men, women and children to its final stretch, making it especially susceptible to the act and effects of terrorism."
Tsarnaev's lawyers had no immediate comment.
Prosecutors allege Tsarnaev, then 19, and his 26-year-old brother, ethnic Chechens from Russia, built and planted two pressure-cooker bombs near the finish line of the race to retaliate against the United States for its military actions in Muslim countries.
The older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, died in a shootout with police during a getaway attempt days after the bombing. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was wounded but escaped and was later captured hiding in a yard in a Boston suburb.