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Tsarnaev Trial Jury Hears Closing Statements

Closing statements were presented today in  the U.S. v. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev case, leaving the jury to decide whether the Boston bomber lives or dies.

Prosecuting Attorney Steve Mellin showed pictures from the bombings, stressing that Dzhokhar ‘Jahar’ Tsarnaev knowingly planted a bomb behind a group of children. Bill Richard, father of Martin Richard – the eight-year-old boy killed at the 2013 marathon – had to choose between saving his young daughter and going to Martin in his final moments of life, said the prosecution.

“This is what terrorism looks like,” Mellin said, “It’s Martin Richard bleeding on the ground in agony […] while his mother begs him to stay alive.”

Mellin also talked about Tsarnaev’s apparent lack of remorse, citing the picture used earlier in the trial showing the defendant making obscene gestures at a holding cell surveillance camera. Twenty minutes after detonating his bomb at the marathon finish line, Tsarnaev casually went to buy milk at a grocery store, said Mellin.

“Don’t be swayed by the cute pictures you saw of the defendant as a child,” Mellin said, referencing the defense’s tactics, “All murderers start as cute children.”

For the defense, Attorney Judy Clarke spoke directly to the jury, asking them “to make a decision about who [Tsarnaev] is, who he was, and who he might become.”

Clarke acknowledged Tsarnaev’s participation in the crimes, but reiterated his largely absent parental figures and the influence of his older brother, Tamerlan. “Were it not for Tamerlan, this would not have happened,” Clarke said, “Jahar would never have done this.”

The defense quoted classmates and teachers who had described Tsarnaev as quiet and hardworking. They also mentioned his involvement in wrestling, Model UN, and Best Buddies – a charity program for the mentally disabled.

Pointing to the testimony of Sister Helen Prejean, Clarke said that Tsarnaev has expressed remorse. Sister Helen said that Tsarnaev told her “No one deserved to suffer like [the bombing victims] did.”

Telling the jury to choose life, Clarke said life in prison without the chance of release is “a sentence that reflects justice and mercy.”

“Jahar Tsarnaev is not the worst of the worst,” said Clarke, “and that’s what the death penalty is for.”

The government’s rebuttal fought the defense’s focus on Tamerlan’s influence, saying Jahar had a “full-on partnership” with his brother. “It might have seemed to you like Tamerlan was on trial,” said Prosecuting Attorney William Weinreb.

Weinreb also pointed out how none of Tsarnaev’s immediate family testified. According to Weinreb, hearing from teary aunts who hadn’t seen Tsarnaev since childhood and coaches who didn’t know his home life makes it hard to know the influence Tamerlan had on the defendant.

As for Tsarnaev’s supposed remorse, Weinreb turned to the boat note from the night of the Watertown shootout, where Tsarnaev said his crimes were revenge for the killings of Muslims. “I don’t like killing innocent people,” Tsarnaev wrote, “but in this case, it’s allowed.” Weinreb also pointed to Tsarnaev’s use of the personal pronoun “I” as assuming responsibility for his individual actions.

As for the possibility of Tsarnaev becoming a martyr for extremists, the prosecution said, “A death sentence is not giving him what he wants – it’s giving him what he deserves.”

The jury now must now go through a 24 page verdict form, analyzing the aggravating and mitigating factors presented by the two sides of the case. Despite the number of factors the jury finds Tsarnaev responsible of beyond reasonable doubt, the jury can choose to weigh some factors more heavily than others.

For the death penalty to be administered, the decision must be unanimous. Otherwise, Tsarnaev will receive life in prison without parole, most likely being kept at the ADX high-security federal prison in Colorado. There is a chance Tsarnaev would be moved from this prison eventually, but as the defense pointed out, Tsarnaev would always be under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

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