(CNN) — Federal prosecutors say they’ll seek the death penalty against Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, arguing that he acted in “an especially heinous, cruel and depraved manner” and lacks remorse.
Authorities allege Tsarnaev, a Chechnya-born American, and his brother Tamerlan planted two homemade bombs near the finish line of the April 15 race, killing three and injuring more than 250.
A Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer was killed three days later, triggering the massive manhunt that led to Tsarnaev’s capture. Police shot and killed Tamerlan Tsarnaev during the manhunt.
“The nature of the conduct at issue and the resultant harm compel this decision,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement released by the Justice Department.
After Holder made his decision, prosecutors filed Thursday a notice with a federal court that they would seek the death penalty in the case.
The notice lists factors that prosecutors argue justify a death sentence in the case. Among them: The attack killed multiple people, involved substantial planning and premeditation and involved betrayal of the United States, prosecutors said.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is charged with 30 federal counts stemming from the attack. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The decision announced Thursday is no surprise, CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said.
“This is a case, that, if you believe in the death penalty, seems to cry out for the death penalty, even though the defendant is only 19 years old, and potentially the junior partner to his late brother,” Toobin said.
But that doesn’t mean it’s an open-and-shut case.
“One of the most interesting, difficult, strategic decisions the defense faces,” Toobin said, is whether to push for a change of venue for the trial.
“Boston was obviously deeply traumatized by this incident. And the jury pool is Boston, if the case remains where it is. But Boston is also probably the most liberal city in the county. Death penalty opposition there is higher than anywhere else,” Toobin said. “So does the defense go somewhere else, where people don’t have the immediate association with the crime? Or do they go somewhere that might not oppose the death penalty in the same numbers?”
Massachusetts abolished the death penalty three decades ago, but prosecutors can seek the death penalty against Tsarnaev because federal law allows for the penalty in certain circumstances.
Despite Holder’s decision to authorize the death penalty in the Tsarnaev case, prosecutors still could reach a plea deal for a lesser sentence with his attorneys, who include death penalty lawyer Judy Clarke.
Holder issued a memo in 2011 that forbids using the death penalty threat to obtain guilty pleas. But that doesn’t prohibit plea deals coming after the attorney general’s recommendation.
Federal officials weighed a number of factors before they announced their decision, including the opinions of victims of the deadly attack.
Survivors were asked to fill out a questionnaire about what they thought about the death penalty.
In a statement Thursday, Gov. Deval Patrick urged the state’s residents to stay strong.
“One way or another, based on the evidence, Tsarnaev will die in prison. In each milestone of the case — today’s announcement, the trial and every other significant step in the justice process — the people hurt by the Marathon bombings and the rest of us so shocked by it will relive that tragedy,” he said. “The best we can do is remind each other that we are a stronger Commonwealth than ever, and that nothing can break that spirit.”
Reached before federal authorities announced their decision to seek the death penalty, Zubeidat Tsarnaev, the suspect’s mother, did not comment on the specifics of the case.
“We are, you know, sickened about our child. … We have nothing in our heads or in our hearts, so what should I say? We are just really sick,” she told CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh in a telephone interview.
“The only thing I want to say,” she said, “is I want the whole world to hear that I love my son, my precious Dzhokhar. That’s it.”