Nearly two years after three people were murdered and over 260 injured by a pair of pressure-cooker bombs at the Boston Marathon finish line, the accused Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will go on trial for his life. His guilt is not in question but his attorneys will try to depict the (then) 19-year-old as the victim of his older brother Tamerlan’s influence.
Tsarnaev faces 30 charges in the bombings and the assassination days later of a police officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Seventeen of the charges carry the possibility of the death penalty. His older brother Tamerlan died in a shootout with the police.
The Boston Herald reports that, in a sideshow bid for sympathy from the jury, Tsarnaev’s legal team plans to tow into court the entire 24-foot boat in which the fugitive was captured, so that the jury can appreciate the “context” of that April night in 2013. His attorneys want them to picture their poor client fearing for his life inside its blood-stained, bullet-riddled hull as the target of an intense manhunt. “You can imagine Mr. Tsarnaev lying in the boat as one might lie in a crypt,” said defense attorney William Fick.
What the jurors should imagine is Tsarnaev’s victims lying in crypts while their surviving family members grieve. “The bomb tore large chunks of flesh out of [8-year-old] Martin Richard,” said the prosecutor in his opening statement today, and the boy bled to death on the sidewalk as his mother looked on helplessly. Martin’s 7-year-old sister lost her leg. His father has significant hearing loss (many of the victims have perforated eardrums), and his mother lost vision in one eye. A close friend of the family stated that “the loss of Martin for the Richards is heartbreaking, and it leaves scars that will absolutely never heal. It tears their heart out, and nothing is ever going to make it right.”
Perhaps the jurors should imagine what that’s like instead of taking pity on the 19-year-old jihadist who planted one of the bombs mere feet away from the Richards family, and then, as the prosecutor told the jury today, stayed to watch the carnage, then calmly bought milk at a nearby Whole Foods, went back to school, and played video games.
Or perhaps the jurors could consider 29-year-old Krystle Campbell, who was also killed in the bombing. A friend who lost her leg that day tearfully testified today that she remembers being hoisted into the air and thrown back by the bomb blast. When she looked down at her leg, “my bones were literally laying next to me on the sidewalk.” Her friend Krystle “very slowly said that her legs hurt,” and the two held hands. “Shortly after that, her hand went limp in mine, and she never spoke again.”
Perhaps the jurors could reserve a little sympathy too for Krystle’s mother and father, who clung to hope for 15 hours that their daughter might be saved in surgery, only to discover that that patient was not Krystle, who had already died. “A parent should never have to bury a child because the hardest thing any parent has to go through is to lose a child,” said the father. “I don’t care if it’s newborn, 6 years, 30 years or 40 years. It’s very difficult.”
The jurors might also consider 23-year-old grad student Linzi Lu, whose life was also cut short by the Tsarnaev brothers. Her family still struggles with the grief. “Even little things can bring it all back,” her aunt said. “It’s been very hard, very emotional.”
MIT police officer Sean Collier, 27, was ambushed and shot in cold blood for his gun a few days later by the Tsarnaevs. “Sean was taken from us in a moment of extreme evil,” said a friend, “but that instant has never defined how we remember him on this campus.”
Here is a list of the severe injuries suffered by the 264 wounded in the blasts, whose lives also will never be the same. Sixteen people lost limbs and at least 3 more lost multiple limbs. And yet Tsarnaev’s defense team wants the jurors to take pity on the poor fugitive who helped wreak that havoc.
Defense attorney David Bruck said the team intends to show that the younger brother’s motive “may well have been the defendant’s domination by, love for, adoration of, submissiveness to… his older brother.” Hopefully the jury understands that children often adore their older siblings but stop short of setting off bombs full of ball bearings and carpenter’s nails at crowded events in a bid for their love and attention. Also, the younger Tsarnaev was not a child. He was 19, and if you’re old enough to do the crime, you’re old enough to do the time.
Assistant U.S. Attorney William Weinreb of the prosecution noted that the defense team’s boat sideshow is a naked plea for sympathy and a suggestion that law enforcement went after the poor boy with unnecessary force: “It’s fair to say what the defense really wants is for the jury to see a boat riddled with bullets,” he said.
But the prosecution would like the jurors to see the boat as well, or at least the jihadist messages Tsarnaev scrawled inside the boat in his own blood: “Stop killing our innocent people and we will stop.” “We Muslims are one body. You kill one of us, you hurt us all.” Not to mention the references to Allah and martyrdom.
As the trial’s opening statements got underway today, Weinreb described Tsarnaev as “a soldier in a holy war against Americans” who was radicalized over a two-year period and believed that the U.S. was an enemy of Muslims. “He also believed that by winning that victory, he had taken a step toward reaching paradise. That was his motive for committing these crimes.”
In her opening statement today, defense attorney Judy Clarke said that her team will not “sidestep” her client’s responsibility, but they plan to portray Tamerlan as the mastermind. She showed the jury a younger photo of Dzhokhar and claimed that she will show how he went “from this to this.”
“The evidence will not establish and we will not argue that Tamerlan put a gun to Dzhokhar's head or that he forced him to join in the plan,” she said, “but you will hear evidence about the kind of influence that this older brother had.”
Clarke has saved a number of high-profile clients from the death penalty, including Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, and Gabrielle Giffords shooter Jared Loughner. But perhaps this time the jury will recognize her client’s evil for what it is, and do the right thing.
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