BOSTON — A federal judge in Boston has ruled that the oath of citizenship cannot be used against accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev at his coming trial.
When the government announced its intention in January to seek the death penalty against Tsarnaev, it alleged a number of factors that aggravated his crimes.
Describing Tsarnaev’s actions as “especially heinous, cruel and depraved,” federal prosecutors stated that when and if the jury convicted Tsarnaev, it should consider a number of “aggravating factors” in deliberating about the death penalty.
They include the multiple killings, the death of a child, the large crowd that the Boston Marathon draws, the iconic event and the shootout that Tsarnaev allegedly engaged in with police several days after the bombings.
What drew the objection of Tsarnaev’s attorneys was the government’s listing of “betrayal of the United States” as another aggravating factor. It was, according to the government, a betrayal of the oath he took when he became a U.S. citizen.
“I will bear true faith and allegiance” is part of that oath.
Tsarnaev, an ethnic Chechen whose family came from Dagestan, swore to that oath seven months before the bombings that killed three, injured 260 others and led to the shooting death of a police officer.
“He betrayed his allegiance to the United States by killing and maiming people,” the government asserted in January.
But at a status conference Wednesday, Judge George O’Toole granted a defense motion and dismissed the government allegation as “unduly prejudicial.”
“Drawing a distinction between naturalized and natural-born is highly inappropriate,” O’Toole said.
Only naturalized citizens are required to take the oath of citizenship. And defense attorneys had argued that the betrayal language of the allegation makes it seem that someone who obtains and enjoys “the freedoms” of American citizenship is worse than a natural-born American who commits the same acts.
The judge said from the bench that the other aggravating factors alleged by the government “that are not obnoxious” are “adequate for the government’s purpose.”