When the bombs went off at the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon on Monday, many jumped to what seemed the obvious conclusion: terrorism.
By charging 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev with using a weapon of mass destruction to kill and injure, the federal government has sent a clear message.
"They want to kill him," says Norman Pattis, a criminal defense attorney and author of the just released "Juries and Justice". "That's a death eligible offense. Massachusetts repealed the death penalty so, at most, Massachusetts can get life without possibility of parole for him. Weapons of mass destruction is a death eligible offense."
However, it doesn't mean Tsarnaev will be executed if he is found guilty. The federal path to execution is long and complicated. Several committees, first on the local level and then in Washington have to sign off on the death sentence as does the attorney general.
"One thing I'd be looking for or looking at in this case to discern the government's intentions is just how quickly or how expedited that review process is in this case," Pattis says.
As for Tsarnaev the defendant, Pattis says, as unlikely as this seems right now, it is possible to soften his image for a jury. Many people have characterized him as a good guy in the days leading up to his capture. Pattis had his own experience with that when he learned his own niece has gone to the prom with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
"So now I'm looking at my niece's Facebook page. There's a picture of Mr. Tsarnaev. There are comments with young people who've know him, some of whom even in the wake of last week's events were offering to come forward as character witnesses. So, is it possible that this young man made some horrible mistakes but he's really not the sum of his worst moments? Absolutely. The challenge for the defense in building a mitigation case should he be found guilty is to transform him into a human being who made a mistake. Not the devil with horns," he says.