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Boston Marathon bomber’s death sentence overturned

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A federal appeals court on Friday tossed the death sentence of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the man convicted in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

A three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new penalty-phase trial, finding that the judge who oversaw the case didn’t sufficiently vet jurors for biases.

“But make no mistake: Dzhokhar will spend his remaining days locked up in prison, with the only matter remaining being whether he will die by execution,” the judges said.

The April 15, 2013, attack killed three people and injured more than 260 others.

Tsarnaev’s lawyers acknowledged at the beginning of his trial that he and his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, set off the two bombs at the marathon finish line. But they argued that Dzhokar Tsarnaev is less culpable than his brother, who they said was the mastermind behind the attack.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev died in a gunbattle with police a few days after the bombing. Dzhokar Tsarnaev is now behind bars at a high-security supermax prison in Florence, Colorado.

Tsarnaev’s attorneys identified a slew of issues with his trial, but said in a brief filed with the court that the “first fundamental error” was the judge’s refusal to move the case out of Boston. They also pointed to social media posts from two jurors suggesting they harbored strong opinions even before the 2015 trial started.

The appeals judges, in a hearing on the case in early December, devoted a significant number of questions to the juror bias argument.

They asked why the two jurors had not been dismissed, or at least why the trial judge had not asked them follow-up questions after the posts came to light on the eve of the trial.

The judges noted that the Boston court has a longstanding rule obligating such an inquiry.

Tsarnaev’s lawyers say one of the jurors — who would go one to become the jury’s foreperson, or chief spokesperson — published two dozen tweets in the wake of the bombings. One post after Tsarnaev’s capture called him a “piece of garbage.”

Tsarnaev was convicted on 30 charges, including conspiracy and use of a weapon of mass destruction. An email was sent to his lawyer seeking comment.

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Top-ranked Ash Barty to skip U.S. Open

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SYDNEY — No. 1-ranked Ash Barty says she has withdrawn from the U.S. Open because she is not comfortable with traveling during the coronavirus pandemic.

Barty is the biggest name yet to opt out of the Aug. 31-Sept. 13 Grand Slam tournament in New York because of the global health crisis.

“My team and I have decided that we won’t be travelling to Western and Southern Open and the U.S. Open this year,” Barty said in a statement to Australian Associated Press on Thursday. “I love both events, so it was a difficult decision but there are still significant risks involved due to COVID-19 and I don’t feel comfortable putting my team and I in that position.”

Barty, who won the French Open in 2019 for her first singles major, said she’s yet to decide on whether to play the clay court major. The French Open was postponed earlier in the year and rescheduled to start Sept. 27.

“I wish the USTA all the best for the tournaments and I look forward to being back in the U.S. next year,” Barty said.

It would be difficult for Barty to travel overseas because Australia has closed its international borders, and she’d expressed concerns more than a month ago about leaving the country to play tennis. Technically, Barty would have to receive permission from the Australian government to travel abroad, and flight options are limited.

Anyone returning to Australia also would have to spend two weeks in quarantine.

MORE: Olympic tennis: Key questions for Tokyo Games in 2021

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Planning for Olympics in a pandemic has echoes of 1920 Games

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DÜSSELDORF, Germany — Olympic athletes competing for gold medals in a world reeling from a pandemic? It won’t be the first time.

A century before the Tokyo Games were postponed because of coronavirus, the Olympics were held in the Belgian city of Antwerp following the Spanish flu pandemic.

The 1920 Games were meant to symbolize a recovery from World War I, not a health crisis. Belgium, a battleground for the opposing powers, was the host country and the five rings of the Olympic Flag flew at an opening ceremony for the first time.

“They released doves, although these were not necessarily doves of peace, because these were doves which had served in the war and they were released by military men,” Roland Renson, a Belgian sports historian, told The Associated Press.

Both the pandemic and the war were epitomized by Aileen Riggin, a 14-year-old American diver who won a gold medal.

Riggin first took up competitive swimming after becoming sick with the Spanish flu, and she went on a tour of a World War I battlefield after winning gold on the springboard. She took a German helmet and some bullets as souvenirs, but got a shock when she examined one of the many boots lying in the churned-up mud.

“I picked up one that had a foot in it, so I dropped it in a hurry,” she recalled later.

The coronavirus has blocked Antwerp’s attempt to mark the centenary. A ceremony in March due to feature the King of Belgium and the president of the International Olympic Committee was canceled.

Despite taking place in the wake of a major war, reconciliation at the Antwerp Olympics had its limits. Germany and its wartime allies didn’t compete, nor did Bolshevik-controlled Russia. They weren’t officially banned, simply not invited. One Swedish figure skater (then in the Summer Olympics before the Winter Games started in 1924) was reportedly forbidden from performing to German music.

There were financial problems, too. Ingenious shortcuts like making a pool from a ditch in the city fortifications — Riggin and other athletes hated the cold, dark water — helped keep costs down, but the Belgian organizing committee still lost money and left behind unpaid debt.

“Antwerp has never cherished its Olympic heritage because of the debacle,” Renson said.

The postponement of the Tokyo Olympics to 2021 is estimated to cost Japan at least $2 billion.

The Spanish flu swept around the world from 1918 until early 1920, killing an estimated 50 million people, though war and poverty made a precise count impossible.

Older people make up a large share of the coronavirus death toll, but the Spanish flu was a particular threat to younger people. That included the soldiers gathered in often squalid conditions as WWI ended. The flu-infected troops in France and Belgium and then hitched a ride when they were demobilized. Parties to welcome soldiers home became infection hot spots.

Seven Olympic athletes are believed to have died from the Spanish flu, according to records provided by Olympic historian and physician Bill Mallon.

They include three WWI veterans as well as Martin Sheridan, a New York policeman who was born in Ireland and won gold medals for the United States in the discus and shot put over multiple early Olympics.

“This flag dips to no earthly king,” Sheridan reportedly said at the 1908 London Olympics when the U.S. team refused to lower its flag in a sign of respect to the British royal family. The comment was first published decades later and its veracity is disputed, but the United States continues the tradition of not dipping the flag at Olympic ceremonies.

Mallon and other researchers have identified 48 cases of COVID-19 among Olympians, with 19 deaths attributed to the disease.

For Belgium, the Spanish flu was another setback to rebuilding after the devastation of WWI. However, Renson said he has not found any direct impact from the pandemic on Olympic preparations.

The Antwerp Olympics were meant to mark new beginnings, but many traditions from before the war remained.

Athletes had to be amateurs, but that rule often meant mediocre competitions between wealthy gentlemen. Working-class people were alienated and many events were poorly attended, with the exception of soccer.

Belgians loved cycling but snubbed the Olympic races for more exciting professional events, Renson said. Some sailing classes had only one entry, meaning the crew simply had to finish to earn a gold medal.

Times were changing, though. It was the Olympic debut for Finnish distance runner Paavo Nurmi, whose scientific approach to training and race strategy helped him to nine gold medals in his career, including three in Antwerp. Sports were increasingly a full-time occupation, even if that meant bending the rules on amateurism.

“The American rowing team, these were all Navy men and they trained every day. So you can ask questions whether they were amateurs or not,” Renson said. “Amateurism was a means to exclude working-class people, simple as that. Paavo Nurmi was not a saint. He was a pure professional.”

The 1920 Olympics excluded many women, too. Two years later, female athletes staged their own breakaway Women’s Olympic Games. That eventually forced the International Olympic Committee to move closer to gender equality.

Many Olympic champions from 1920 are little remembered today, but the games were a symbolic resurrection of sports in adversity.

“In a minimum of time, they organized the games, but they were relatively improvised games,” Renson said. “They had to do it with the means they had at their disposal, and they were at that time far from abundant in a city so heavily hit by war.”

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