Tsarnaev found guilty of bombing marathon, killing MIT officer
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found guilty on Wednesday of all 30 counts he was charged with in the Boston Marathon bombings, including the killing of MIT police officer Sean Collier. The verdict was unanimously reached by the jury after 11 hours of deliberations over two days.
As early as next week, the trial could enter the sentencing phase, in which the jury will determine if Tsarnaev is given the death penalty or life in prison without parole. Out of the 30 convictions, 17 could carry the death penalty.
“While today’s verdict can never bring Sean back, we are thankful that Tsarnaev will be held accountable for the evil that he brought to so many families,” members of Sean Collier’s family said in a statement Wednesday. “[If] these terrorists thought they would somehow strike fear in the hearts of people, they monumentally failed. We know Sean would be very proud of that.”
Jeff Bauman, a survivor who lost both his legs in the bombings, wrote on Facebook, “Today’s verdict will never replace the lives that were lost and so dramatically changed, but it is a relief, and one step closer to closure.”
Many survivors and families of the victims were present in court to hear the verdict, including the parents of Martin Richards, the 8-year old boy who was killed by the bombings. Richards’ mother, Denise, was seen wiping away tears in the courtroom.
In a press release, Mayor Martin Walsh said he was “thankful that this phase of the trial has come to an end” and “hopeful for a swift sentencing process.”
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said, “I hope this brings some degree of closure to those individuals and their families whose lives were changed forever on that horrific day.”
Among the other charges, Tsarnaev was convicted of using weapons of mass destruction — pressure cooker bombs at the marathon and pipe bombs during a subsequent manhunt in Watertown, Massachusetts. The bombs left three dead and over 250 injured. Tsarnaev was also found responsible for the death of MIT police officer Sean Collier.
Although it is unknown whether he or his brother, Tamerlan, fired the trigger, it was shown during the trial that Tsarnaev obtained the Ruger handgun used to kill Collier and that Collier’s blood was found on the keys and inside of Tsarnaev’s car. An MIT graduate student also testified in court that he saw Tsarnaev leaning into the window of Collier’s cruiser. Tsarnaev was ultimately convicted for murdering Collier or “aiding and abetting” his brother in doing so.
Although Tsarnaev’s lead attorney, Judy Clarke, admitted that he was responsible for the bombings in her opening statements five weeks ago — “It was him,” she said — jurors were still confronted with weeks of emotional testimonies as the government built its case. The 30 charges took the 12 jurors over 11 hours to deliberate on, likely because of the many details in each charge.
After seven hours of deliberation on Tuesday, the jury asked the judge two questions, one of which pertained to the three counts of conspiracy that Tsarnaev was charged with. As WBZ-TV’s Jim Armstrong reported, the jury wanted to know if conspiracies include planning events over multiple days, likely concerning the death of Collier, which happened three days after the bombings. Judge George O’Toole said it could, but that it was up to the jury to decide if it applied here.
The more disputed phase of the trial is bound to be the sentencing phase, in which the same jury will determine whether Tsarnaev will spend his life in prison or be sentenced to death.
In cases where juries had to decide between life and death, according to the Justice Department, 41 of the 159 total federal death penalty trials taken by the US government between 1995 and 2000 resulted in capital punishment. If Tsarnaev were sentenced to death row, his execution would be the first one to take place in Massachusetts since 1947. The state outlawed capital punishment in 1982, but since this is a federal trial, the death penalty remains a possibility.
The sentencing phase will consist of prosecutors presenting evidence known as “aggravating factors” as they try to sentence Tsarnaev to the death penalty. Aggravating factors may include the intentional murder of a child, which prosecutors have tried to show in this case by claiming Tsarnaev targeted Martin Richards when he placed the bomb near the finish line of the marathon.
The defense will try to counter the government’s aggravating factors with mitigating factors, such as showing how Tsarnaev was influenced by his brother and not jihadism directly. These mitigating factors were not allowed during the first phase of the trial, but with its conclusion, Tsarnaev’s attorneys are expected to bring in witnesses to relate the personal side of Tsarnaev’s life.
During closing arguments on Monday, Tsarnaev was surprisingly more active than he’s been in prior proceedings, whispering to his attorneys for extended periods and reading through notes at the defense table. He smiled to his attorneys after walking into the courtroom.
While the counts he had been charged with were read out, though, Tsarnaev appeared apathetic. At one point, he leaned so far over in his chair that his head was practically on the table in front of him.
The prosecution’s closing arguments on Monday were presented by Aloke Chakravarty, who delivered a powerful—at times, almost theatrical—narrative of the evidence against Tsarnaev. Survivors and their family members were seen tearing up as graphic images and videos from earlier in the trial were reintroduced.
Chakravarty painted a portrait of a cold-blooded terrorist who wanted to kill Americans. “It was a coordinated attack to maximize the terror,” he said of the two brothers.
Jurors were shown video outside The Forum restaurant where the second bomb went off. In the video, the crowded area of people cheering is immediately interrupted by a yellow flash before the screen turns to a dark-red tint. As the smoke vanishes, a haunting scene emerges, showing people fallen to the ground.
The climax of the government’s closing arguments came when Chakravarty described how Tsarnaev was trying to seek revenge on America after becoming engrossed in terrorist readings. He was making a statement, said Chakravarty, “an eye for an eye.” As Chakravarty raised his voice to a near shout, he walked over to within feet of Tsarnaev and angrily waved his finger at him. Tsarnaev sat completely still as everyone’s eyes landed on him.
Tsarnaev’s lead attorney, Judy Clarke, followed with the defense’s closing arguments. “There is no excuse. No one is trying to make one,” Clarke told jurors. “It was a senseless act.”
Clarke went on to demonstrate how the brother, Tamerlan, was the mastermind behind the attacks. She mentioned phone records that show how Tamerlan was the one to buy the pressure cookers for the bombs.
“We don’t deny that [Tsarnaev] fully participated in the events. But if not for Tamerlan, it would not have happened.”
Rather than describing a homegrown terrorist, Clarke presented the picture of a 19-year-old boy swayed by his brother.
Clarke’s strategy did little to save Tsarnaev from being convicted of all 30 charges. However, the defense’s narrative of Tsarnaev’s motivations will truly be tested in the second phase of the trial, where jurors will make the life-or-death decision.
Lenny Rowe of the Suffolk Voice contributed reporting.