Sentencing Deliberations Resume for Tsarnaev

     BOSTON (CN) – The month-long trial to decide whether to execute the Boston Marathon bomber ended with more than four hours of closing arguments, as the jury returns to deliberate Thursday.
     Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Mellin had brought theatrics and a black backpack with him to the podium Wednesday.
     “I want to start back on Boylston Street, back where the carnage began,” he said as he casually flung the bag off his shoulder and underneath an easel that propped up a large picture of Boylston Street right before the bombings. The backpack landed with an audible clunk, as if it contained a homemade bomb.
     “The defendant’s goal was to murder and mutilate. He wanted to murder as many people as possible. He placed the bomb approximately 4 feet behind a row of children. Killing innocents was the whole point: the more vulnerable and unsuspecting the victim, the more terrifying the murder.”
     Just as in the trial that ended with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s conviction on all 30 counts for the April 14, 2013, attacks, Mellin never called “the defendant” by his name in his closing statement.
     The penalty phase of 21-year-old Tsarnaev’s trial began in the wake of another Marathon Monday, two years almost to the day of the attacks he carried out with his older brother, Tamerlan, a fellow Kyrgyzstan refugee who died violently in the days after the bombings.
     Dressed in dark suit and bright blue tie, Mellin next showed the court images of Boylston Street after the bombs went off. The street was drenched in blood, the air clouded with smoke, and people were sprawled on the ground, missing legs and skin.
     As he summarized the agony of the victims and their families, Mellin focused heavily on the Richard family.
     Denise and Bill Richard’s 8-year-old son Martin was the youngest of the marathon’s three casualties. Denise was left blind in her left eye. Bill is now partially deaf. Their daughter Jane lost a leg.
     “Bill Richard knew immediately that there was no chance for Martin,” Mellin said. “His body covered by a table cloth on Boylston Street. Those are the lasting images Denise will have for the rest of her life. Life for the Richard family will never be the same. There is no just punishment for that other than death.”
     Mellin’s voice trembled in anger as he spoke. He displayed a picture of the family, smiling and hugging each other with brightly colored conical birthday hats strapped around their chins.
     “Bill had to choose between saving Jane or seeing Martin in his last moments left,” he said. “Do you think that memory goes away?”
     In the days after Tsarnaev’s conviction, the Martins published a public plea in the Boston Globe asking prosecutors to take the death penalty off the table to spare them the pain that a drawn-out, death-row-appeals process will bring.
     Mellin described the “smoke coming out of” 29-year-old Krystal Campbell’s mouth as she lay dying at the marathon finish line. “Krystal was her dad’s princess,” the prosecutor said. “She was the light in his life. He told you she would call him every day. Now that light is out and that phone call will never come.”
     The jury looked at a photo of Campbell with arms wrapped around her young nephew, hoisting him up, his arms raised in the air. A nondescript backyard rests in background of their wide smiles.
     Sean Collier, the 27-year-old police officer whom Tsarnaev and his brother shot to death while trying to evade authorities after the bombings, was considered the moral compass of his family, the prosecutor said. Showing a picture of Collier in uniform, being pinned at his graduation from the police academy, Mellin said, “There will always be a cloud over his family forever.”
     “Character: the one word that describes him,” the prosecutor added. “Now, that character is gone, and grief still remains.”
     For the “joyful, beautiful nerd” Lingzi Lu, who was 23 on the day she died on Boylston Street, Mellin presented a picture of the graduate student wearing Minnie Mouse ears and sitting poised, with her hands folded in her lap. “So unbelievably sad, and yet, so true,” Mellin said. “Her parents’ pain will never go away.”
     Another 260 people were maimed in the bombings, which Tsarneav left to shop at Whole Foods, the prosecutor said.
     There he tweeted, “Ain’t no love in the heart of the city,” and went on with his life “without shedding a tear.”
     “Drinking his milk and tweeting his glib commentary, his true character was on display that night,” Mellin said.
     “Three months later, the defendant comes into court to be formally charged with murdering a little boy, two women, and a police officer,” the prosecutor continued. Referring to a picture of Tsarneav giving his middle finger to a security camera in a holding cell, Mellin said Tsarnaev has “had months to reflect, but you cannot see remorse.”
     “He believed he did something brave and something good,” Mellin added. “Frankly it’s not even close. The magnitude of the aggravating factors tilts the scales of justice in only one direction.”
     The federal prosecutor aggressively tried to remove any doubt of what decision the jury should reach. “A death sentence is not giving him what he wants,” he said. “It’s giving him what he deserves.”
     Before closing arguments began, U.S. District Judge George O’Toole Jr. gave the jury detailed instructions on aggravating factors, or evidence that supports the harshest penalty appropriate.
     The 24-page verdict form that O’Toole went over with the jury in its entirety reads like a final exam, replete with multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank questions.
     Trying to downplay what they would hear from Tsarnaev’s defense team, Mellin spoke to the jury about mitigating factors, the evidence about a defendant’s character that lessens a sentence.
     “Tamerlan was not the defendant’s master,” Mellin said, referring to Tsarneav’s main defense. “They were partners in crimes and brothers in arms. Not once in his tweets does he say, ‘Tamerlan made me do it.'”
     Before closing, Mellin reminded the jurors of what life in prison means for Tsarneav.
     “He’ll have his own cell with a window,” Mellin said. “He can take courses and get a college degree. He can write a book. He’ll be able to talk to other inmates and the staff. He’ll be able to visit with family and approved contacts and exchange and unlimited number of letters. His life will not be worse than death.”
     In contrast to how Mellin described “the defendant,” renowned death-penalty opponent Judy Clarke used a name Tsarnaev’s friends called him.
     “I need to talk with you about Jahar,” she continued. “But before I do, I want to make one thing very, very, very clear. The story of the Boston Marathon bombing is not about Jahar. Family members who lost their loved ones testified from the depth of their grief and with great dignity, hurt beyond imagination. In each person, you saw a determination to thrive and survive. The Boston Marathon bombing is a story about strength and resilience. You’re not just making a decision on the horrific crimes. You’re to make a decision about who Jahar is, who he was, and who he might became.”
     She added: “I’m not asking you to excuse him. There are no excuses. I’m not asking for sympathy. Our sympathy lies with those families. I’m asking you to try to understand how the unimaginable occurred.”
     Clarke, wearing a dark suit and a wispy blue scarf, focused on mitigating factors, describing Tsarneav’s childhood as moving frequently and living in squalor.
     His mother, once “fashionable, flashy, and loud,” turned intimidating and dark as she and Tamerlan became radicalized in their Islamic faith. Debilitating mental illness had meanwhile completely disabled Tsarneav’s father, Clarke said. For his PTSD, panic disorder and agoraphobia, doctors recommended “constant supervision and support.”
     “One thing was consistent in the chaos,” Clarke said. “Jahar remained the invisible child.”
     She described how Tamerlan was the child with a promising boxing career, the one with charisma. A “flashy dresser,” like his mother. He received all of their parents’ attention.
     Clarke reminded the jury how Tsarneav’s wrestling coach testified that his parents never came to his practices or matches.
     She recalled testimony from her client’s teachers and friends, who called Tsarneav quiet, hard-working, respectful, sweet, shy, goofy, approachable, kind.
     She brought up how he had volunteered with animals and disabled students.
     This all changed though, when his parents left back for Russia, leaving their sons in the United States.
     “We know Jahar respected his older brother,” Clarke said. “We know his older brother was a major influence on his life.”
     She highlighted the difference between the men, noting the picture of bloodied, dead children Tamerlan used as the background on his desktop computer.
     Tamerlan alienated his wife from her Rhode Island family and friends by having her radicalize; his cousins were kept away because of his extremism. It was this refusal to listen to others that people cited in saying why Tamerlan would not make it as a boxer, Clarke said.
     She called Tamerlan a Jihadi wannabe who sent her client religious propaganda.
     From his younger brother, Tamerlan received emails about cars. Clarke said Jahar never tried convert anyone. “Believe me, you would have heard about it if he had,” she said.
     “But if not for Tamerlan, this would not have happened,” Clarke said. “Jahar would never have done this but if not for Tamerlan. None of it.”
     Clarke conceded that she doesn’t have an explanation. “I can tell you this, and we’ve shown you, that Jahar is not the worst of the worst, and that’s what the death penalty is reserved for, the worst of the worst,” she said. “He committed a heinous crime and must be prosecuted, but you promised us when you took your oath as jurors that you would look beyond the crime. You would look at the person. There are not aggravating factors that focus on Jahar being a danger, him leading a life of crime and violence, unable to be housed in prison. You’ve got to look at the person.”
     Reflecting on the picture that the prosecution showed of Tsarneav making obscene gestures into a holding-cell security camera, Clarke noted that Tsarneav’s later apology for the behavior was concealed.
     “It’s not only possible, but probable, that Jahar has the potential for redemption,” Clarke said. “He has grown in the last two years. He is remorseful, and he is sorry.”
     As to the prosecution’s discussion of how Tsarnaev could make the most of a life sentence, Clarke said she was “baffled.”
     “He won’t have a room with a view,” she said. “Let’s get real. This is not a club. This is not a resort. This is 29 men vying for the privilege of cleaning the showers. He will still be in isolation for the rest of his life. There will be no book. There will be no coded messages. There will be nothing.”
     Clarke questioned the government’s rationale. “The decision-makers of what happens to him in prison are the folks sitting at this table,” she said. “They are hardly softies on convicted terrorists. Are they telling you that you should not trust them to provide security, but you should trust them that death is the best penalty?”
     That her client will face punishment for his crime is certain, Clarke said.
     “He will die in jail,” Clarke said. “The question is when and how. We are asking you to choose life, yes, even for the Boston Marathon bomber. There’s no punishment that can balance the scales.”
     Thirty-seven people have received the death penalty from the federal government since 1927.
     At present, 61 inmates are on death row.
     The last people put to death in Massachusetts were two gangsters, Philip Bellino and Edward Gertson, on May 9, 1947, for the murder of Robert Williams, over an illegal dice game. They were executed via the electric chair.

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