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Federal terrorism laws' record mixed in bombing prosecutions

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 in 1993 may be at the top of their list.

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

Yet, even in cases matching the brutality of the Boston bombings, there is a mixed record of those prosecuted under federal terror statutes.

Timothy McVeigh, was found guilty of 11 crimes in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, including conspiracy and use of a weapon of mass destruction. His bomb at a federal building killed 168 people and injured more than 800. He was executed.

Ramzi Yousef, who assembled a team and the supplies to build a 1,200-pound bomb used in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, was convicted of conspiracy and other charges. He is serving a life sentence.

Faisal Shahzad, accused of a foiled plot to blow up his Nissan Pathfinder in Times Square on May 1, 2010, was charged with conspiracy to detonate an improvised explosive and incendiary device and other charges. He pleaded guilty and 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.

Federal death penalty prosecutions, unlike many state cases, require rigorous vetting at the Justice Department's highest levels. All death penalty cases require a second trial, a so-called penalty phase, where jurors decide whether the convicted person deserves life in prison or death. They weigh mitigating and aggravating factors.

On Friday, Boston U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz declined to say after Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's capture whether she would seek the death penalty.

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