No plea deal in Tsarnaev case

Right up until this weekend I had suspected that we would somehow wind up with a plea deal in the case of Boston Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. There wasn’t any particular reason for this suspicion beyond the lack of enthusiasm for death penalty cases in both Massachusetts and Washington, DC these days and the general sense of exhaustion surrounding this case. And there were, in fact, negotiations going on until the eleventh hour to see if a deal couldn’t be reached. This weekend, however, those talks fell apart and it looks like we’re going to trial.

Federal prosecutors and defense attorneys for Tsarnaev have held talks on a possible plea agreement but failed to reach one, U.S. officials familiar with the talks say.

The discussions in recent months have centered on the possibility of Tsarnaev pleading guilty and receiving a life sentence without parole, according to the officials.

But the talks have reached an impasse because the Justice Department has resisted removing the death penalty as a possibility, these officials say.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney in Boston declined to comment. Attorney Judy Clarke, who represents Tsarnaev, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

There are a few surprises here. One is that Clarke failed to cut a deal. She’s the same lawyer who managed to keep Jared Loughner from going to trial after the Gabby Giffords shooting, as well as a host of other high profile deals including the Unabomber. On the other side of the negotiating table, it’s possibly even more surprising that Eric Holder is keeping the death penalty in play and refusing a deal which removed the possibility entirely. Holder has been a vocal opponent of capital punishment, but in this case he was apparently forced to admit that Tsarnaev’s actions where too “heinous, cruel and depraved” to escape the needle. (Massachusetts doesn’t have the death penalty, but this is a federal trial so Tsarnaev could still qualify for it on the charge of detonating a weapon of mass destruction and multiple murder counts.)

For their part, it looks like the defense will go for broke and see if they can get a not guilty finding by arguing that it was the older, now deceased Tsarnaev brother who was the mastermind and essentially manipulated his younger sibling into taking part in the carnage. (Good luck with that.)

It’s not as if Dzhokhar is without his defenders… at least to a point. MSNBC has found expert commentators to at least wonder if he could ever get a fair trial in Boston and if the proceedings should be moved to a more neutral venue. As a technicality I suppose it’s a valid question, but where in the country are you going to go to find twelve people who don’t know about this story? Then again, I guess the folks in Boston would take it a bit more personally and thereby be more likely to to have him put down, but the whole country seemed to take it pretty personally as I recall the events.

Boston has sent out more than 3,000 invitations to potential jurors and will begin screening them today. Lord only knows how long it will take for them to seat an entire panel, but barring a last minute cave by Holder it looks like we’ll be giving Tsarnaev the full show.