Tsarnaev Joins A Death Row With Many Members, And Few Executions

by Jon Schuppe /  / Updated 

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Now that he's been formally sentenced to death, Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will soon become a resident of federal death row, joining 61 other killers who've been condemned to die by lethal injection at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.

There he will wait — likely for a very long time.

Just how long depends on a range of factors, mainly the strength of his legal appeals and the future of lethal injection drugs. But it's safe to assume that it will be several years before he is put to death.

Despite the name, there isn't much death on death row.

Boston Marathon bomber DhzhokharTsarnaev listens in court during his sentencing hearing on June 24.
Boston Marathon bomber DhzhokharTsarnaev listens in court during his sentencing hearing on June 24.Art Lien

Since the federal government reinstated the death penalty in 1988, 75 inmates have ended up on death row, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Ten have been removed, and only three have been executed.

The last man to die there was Louis Jones Jr., in 2003, eight years after he was sentenced for murdering a U.S. soldier. The other two, marijuana kingpin Juan Raul Garza and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, waited eight years and four years, respectively, for their executions.

Louis Jones Jr., left, was executed at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, in 2003. Juan Raul Garza, center, and Timothy McVeigh were executed at the penitentiary in 2001.
Louis Jones Jr., left, was executed at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, in 2003. Juan Raul Garza, center, and Timothy McVeigh were executed at the penitentiary in 2001.San Angelo Standard; Terre Haut

That leaves 61 men and 1 woman still on federal death row, including two people whose original conviction or sentence has been reversed but their legal fate has not yet been finalized.

Tsarnaev, 21, is the youngest.

He'll join a cast of violent men at Terre Haute — the one woman on death row, Lisa Montgomery, who killed a pregnant woman and cut her unborn baby out of her womb, is serving her remaining days in the Federal Medical Center Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas.

The 1988 resumption of the death penalty followed a 16-year suspension triggered by a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision that voided dozens of existing death penalty statutes. Prior to that decision, 34 people were executed on federal death row, dating back to 1927.

Currently, there is an effective moratorium on federal executions because the U.S. government’s lethal injection policy is being revised. The drug called for in the protocol is no longer available, and it won't be easy to find replacement drugs.

The longest current residents of death row are Corey Johnson, James Roane Jr. and Richard Tipton, fellow gang members who were sentenced to execution in 1993 for nine murders committed to protect their crack dealing operation.

The newest — before Tsarnaev — is Thomas Sanders, who was sentenced to death in September for kidnapping and killing a 12-year-old girl.

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