BOSTON -- Federal prosecutors announced Thursday that 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 Mr. 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 Mr. 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," Mr. 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.
Mr. 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 Mr. 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 Mr. Tsarnaev's "lack of remorse" and allegations that he killed a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer as well as an 8-year-old boy, a "particularly vulnerable" victim because of his age.
They also said Mr. 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."
Mr. Tsarnaev's lawyers had no immediate comment.
In an ABC interview, Mr. Tsarnaev's mother, Zubeidat, who lives in Russia, said: "How can I feel about this? I feel nothing. I can tell you one thing, that I love my son. I will always feel proud of him. And I keep loving him."
Prosecutors allege that Mr. Tsarnaev, then 19, and his 26-year-old brother, ethnic Chechens from Russia, built and planted two pressure-cooker bombs near the race finish line to retaliate against U.S. military actions in Muslim nations. 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 boat in a suburban Boston backyard. Authorities said he scrawled in the boat, "The U.S. government is killing our innocent civilians" and "We Muslims are one body: You hurt one, you hurt us all."
Killed in the bombings were: Martin Richard, 8, of Boston; Krystle Campbell, 29, of Medford; and Lu Lingzi, 23, a Boston University graduate student from China. At least 16 others lost limbs. Mr. Tsarnaev is also charged in an MIT campus officer's slaying and a motorist's carjacking during the brothers' getaway attempt.
Ms. Campbell's grandmother, Lillian Campbell, said she isn't sure that she supports the death penalty but fears that Mr. Tsarnaev will "end up living like a king" in prison.
Well before the attorney general's decision came down, Mr. Tsarnaev's defense team added Judy Clarke, one of the nation's foremost death penalty specialists. The San Diego lawyer has negotiated plea agreements that saved the lives of such clients as Ted Kaczynski, the acknowledged Unabomber, and Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph.
Legal experts say court filings suggest the defense may try to save Mr. Tsarnaev's life by arguing that he fell under his older brother's evil influence.
In addition to the use of a weapon of mass destruction, the crimes that carry the death penalty include: bombing of a place of public use resulting in death; possession and use of a firearm during a crime of violence resulting in death; and malicious destruction of property resulting in personal injury and death.
If a jury convicts Mr. Tsarnaev, it will then hold a second trial phase to determine his punishment.