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Previous domestic terrorists may have set legal precedent

BOSTON – As prosecutors weigh charges in the Boston Marathon bombings, the same laws used successfully in deadly terrorist acts such as the Oklahoma City bombing and the first World Trade Center attack may be at the top of their list.

Terrorism cases brought over the past 20 years show there are a number of federal statutes that could be applied, including counts of conspiracy to use or actual use of a weapon of mass destruction, both of which are punishable by death.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 19-year-old suspect in the Boston attack, is being held in a Boston hospital, where he is in serious condition after being taken into custody Friday. In the April 15 bombing, three people were killed and 180 injured by two explosions seconds apart near the finish line.

The suspect’s elder brother, Tamerlan, 26, was later killed in a confrontation with police. The two men were pursued as part of a sprawling four-day manhunt, during which one police officer was killed and another wounded in exchanges of gunfire.

Even in cases matching the brutality of the Boston bombings and their aftermath, there is a mixed record of those prosecuted under federal terror statutes when it comes to obtaining a sentence of life, or death. The one consistent thread over the years, however, has been that most cases result in convictions.

Timothy McVeigh, accused in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, was found guilty of 11 crimes, including conspiracy and the use of a weapon of mass destruction for detonating a bomb outside a federal building that killed 168 people and injured more than 800.

Ramzi Yousef, who assembled a team of colleagues and the supplies to build a 1,200-pound bomb used in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, was convicted of conspiracy and other terrorism charges for the attack, which at the time was the worst terrorist incident ever on U.S. soil.

McVeigh was executed, while Yousef was sentenced to life plus 240 years in prison for his bombing, which killed six and injured more than 1,000. His sentence also stemmed from his role in a separate plot to bomb more than a dozen U.S. jetliners over the Pacific during the same day.

Yousef is serving his sentence in the U.S. government’s Administrative Maximum facility in Florence, Colo., the same facility that houses McVeigh’s co-conspirator, Terry Nichols, who is also serving a life term.

Faisal Shahzad, accused of a foiled plot to blow up his Nissan Pathfinder in New York’s Times Square on May 1, 2010, was charged with conspiracy to detonate an improvised explosive and incendiary device; attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction; using a destructive device in connection with an attempted crime of violence; and possession and use of a firearm, as well as attempted act of terrorism transcending national boundaries.

Shahzad, a former financial analyst, later pleaded guilty and admitted to receiving training and funding from the Pakistan Taliban. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Adis Medunjanin, charged in a conspiracy to detonate bombs in New York City subways, was indicted on a weapon of mass destruction count and other terrorism charges. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

On Friday, Boston U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz declined to say after the capture of Tsarnaev whether she would seek the death penalty, alluding to the complex process by which U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder makes the final decision.

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