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Thursday, July 25, 2024 | Back issues
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Tsarnaev’s Fate Now in Jury’s Hands

BOSTON (CN) - Jurors have two different images Tuesday as they consider the fate of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: one of a "bloodthirsty" extremist and the other of "an adolescent doing adolescent things."

For his admitted role in largest terrorist attack in the United States since Sept. 11, 2001, Tsarnaev, 21, faces 15 counts of criminal acts. He also faces another 15 counts for the measures he took in his attempt to escape capture. Seventeen of the 30 counts carry the death penalty.

In total, four people were killed and more than 260 were injured on April 15, 2013. Of these, 17 suffered amputations.

Though he does not face a criminal count for it, Tsarnaev is also blamed with inadvertently killing his brother and co-conspirator in the attacks, Tamerlan, by running him over with the SUV they stole while police were trying to subdue the man.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Aloke Chakravarty began closing statements Monday by reminding the jury that Tsarneav, a naturalized U.S. citizen who came to America with his family as refugees from Kyrgyzstan, wanted to "awake a holy war."

"He wanted to terrorize this county," Chakravarty said of the ethnic Chechen. "He wanted to punish America for what it was doing to his people. And that's what he did."

Prosecution went over the entire timeline of events, starting with a video of the bomb Tsarneav planted going off.

The footage shows Tsarneav approaching a row of kids behind a metal barrier separating the sidewalk from the marathon on the street. A tree almost obscures him from view.

People at the restaurant behind him are clapping for the runners, talking and smiling.

Then, everyone stops abruptly and looks towards the finish line, puzzled. Moments later, the bomb next to them goes off, and chaos erupts.

The smokes lifts quickly and the scene is inundated with ripped clothing, blood pooling, people running with their mouths open in terror. Others are dragging themselves away on their bellies because they are unable to stand. Many have bones protruding from gaping holes in their flesh.

Tsarneav can be seen looking over his shoulder and pushing people out of the way as he flees.

While this footage plays yet again in the courtroom, Tsarneav begins to nervously pick at his lips.

The prosecution details how Tsarneav "cooly" continued on with his day, stopping by Whole Foods and then going to his dormitory at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, where he had time for a workout.

"Three days later when their faces were all over the news, they sprung back into action, again in a coordinated style," the prosecution said.

With plans to detonate more bombs in New York City, the Tsarnaevs targeted a cop, killing him on April 18 while trying to steal his gun. They carjacked an SUV next, to make themselves harder to track.

Paraphrasing testimony the jury heard from the driver they kept hostage, Chakravarty said that the Tsarnaevs "were talking to each other, like partners, in a foreign langue, like a team."

The brothers also took turns wearing the same hat on that day, the prosecutor added.


What the prosecution calls "their last stand" soon followed. It was before dawn on Friday morning as police used the carjacked vehicle's GPS to locate the Tsarnaevs in a quiet residential neighborhood that the brothers turned into a warzone. When the Tsarnaevs had hurled every single type of ammunition they had at the cops, included their guns, Tamerlan charged at police, "committing suicide by cop."

"Defendant was all alone," Chakravarty said. "He had choice. He could surrender, he could keep driving, he could do what he his brother did and charge at the police. He didn't do any of that. He chose to get back into the Mercedes and use it as a weapon."

"Why did he do it?" the prosecutor asked of Tsarnaev's running his brother over. "He did it in the hopes of killing three more police officers."

Tsarneav looked down and scratched the back of his head as Chakravarty began speaking of the note Tsarneav left on the boat where he hid after fleeing the scene.

The message Tsarnaev had scrawled on the inside of the boat in which he was found hiding after the shootout with police that left his brother dead was "his last chance to voice his true beliefs," Chakravarty said.

"They are the words that would give meaning to his life and death," he continued. "It's grammatical. It doesn't wander. It makes sense. He had no reason to tell anything but the truth. Now that he's on trial for his life, he has every reason to back away from the truth."

Before resting, the prosecution played religious music while displaying a photo of Tsarneav in his dorm room with a black flag with Arabic writing above him.

"Defendant played a crucial role ... Tamerlan wasn't able to do it on his own," Chakravarty said. The prosecutor added: "He had opportunities to make different choices along the way. These are the choices he made. That's why we're here."

Defense attorney Judy Clarke maintained during her closing that the prosecution had not looked at "the complete picture."

She acknowledged the injustice. "In the last few weeks we have come face to face with tragedy suffering and grief in dimensions that none of us can imagine to be possible," she said.

Clarke quickly moved her focus from the inherent emotion in the case to reason and logic.

"The evidence is that Tamerlan built the bombs," she said. "Tamerlan killed the officer. Tamerlan stole the car. Tamerlan did Internet research. Tamerlan bought pressure cookers. Tamerlan bought backpacks."

Clarke went over a long list of items that had Tamerlan's fingerprints on them, but not those of his younger brother.

"Let's be honest about what the evidence actually shows," she said. "We're not asking to excuse the conduct. We don't deny that [Tsarneav] fully participated in the event, but if not for Tamerlan it would not have happened."

Clarke accused the prosecution of "cherry picking" evidence and questioned why they showed Tsarneav's religious Tweets but left out Tweets about "girls and missing class and not doing homework and sleeping."

She told the jury that prosecution played music and showed a picture of the black flag with Arabic writing to "tug on heartstrings." "Their own expert said there's nothing radical about the flag," the defense attorney said. "It is a religious flag. "

Clarke also brought up how most of Tsarneav's computer use related to Facebook and social media.

"We should talk about the writings in the boat," she added in a conversational tone. "The prosecution paints the picture of calm reflection in the boat. Remember how he got there. He had gotten into the Mercedes and fled into a hail of gunfire. It wasn't time for calm reflection. He tried to tell why they did what they did. It wasn't like it was written out and ready to be distributed."

Though calling her client's actions "inexcusable," Clarke suggested an alternative to one of the prosecutions "misimpressions." She proposed that Tsarneav did not leave the bomb where he did because there were children in front of him, but rather the tree, which gave him a place to rest the bag, made the location ideal.

"It does not make it better, but let's not make his intent any worse than it was," she said.

Clarke closed with a plea for logic and reason to dominate the deliberation process. "Hold your minds open to what more there is to hear, learn and understand," she said. "We know in the face of the heartbreak it is not an easy task, but we ask you do it. We are not asking you to go easy on [Tsarneav]. We are not asking you to not hold him accountable and responsible for what he did. The devastation we heard about deserves to be condemned and the time is now. I know, and we know, that by your verdict you will do what is right and what is just, and your verdict will speak the truth."

Jurors will begin deliberation on Tuesday.

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