Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was convicted of carrying out the biggest terror attack on U.S. soil since 2001, as jurors in the Boston Marathon bombing case now turn to the more difficult task of deciding whether he should die.
The verdict by the jury of seven women and five men was all but certain. Defense lawyers admitted early in the trial that the 21-year-old former college student helped plan the bombings, which ripped through crowds near the finish line in 2013, killing two women and an 8-year-old boy. At least 260 others were wounded in a scene of smoke and carnage prosecutors methodically described during the 16-day trial in Boston federal court.
“In a case where the defense conceded that Tsarnaev committed these crimes, the verdict is certainly no surprise,” said Mark Pearlstein, a former federal prosecutor who’s now a defense lawyer at McDermott Will & Emery, and who isn’t involved in the case. “The real battle -- the fight about punishment -- now begins.”
Tsarnaev’s lawyers tried to portray him as a dupe of his older brother Tamerlan, who was killed in a shootout with police. The jury dismissed the argument, and now must decide on whether to sentence Tsarnaev to death or life in prison. That phase of the trial may begin early next week, according to the judge.
In weighing their decision, jurors will be asked to balance mitigating factors, which could include the influence of Tamerlan, against aggravating factors, such as the ferocity of the attack and the gruesome injuries it caused.
A death sentence would require a unanimous jury.
The jury, which deliberated for about 1 1/2 days, found Tsarnaev guilty of all 30 counts, including the use of a weapon of mass destruction.
In the months before the trial, defense attorney Judy Clarke made repeated efforts to move the case out of Boston, arguing Tsarnaev couldn’t get a fair trial because the region had been traumatized by the bombing and a subsequent manhunt through the area.
Prosecutors called more than 90 witnesses, including federal agents who testified that Tsarnaev was closely involved in the planning and execution of the attack. The government sought to undercut Clarke’s effort to put the onus on the older brother, a defense effort geared more toward avoiding a death sentence than a guilty verdict.
Clarke, who has negotiated life sentences for other notorious criminals including “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski, didn’t put her client on the witness stand.
Tsarnaev remained impassive throughout the trial, which included days of wrenching testimony from victims.
Prosecutors portrayed him as a self-radicalized terrorist who sought to kill marathon spectators out of anger toward U.S. foreign policy and its effect on Muslims. He declared his motives in pencil on the inside of a boat where he hid while police hunted him and his brother.
Clarke and her team sought to place the blame on Dzhokhar’s brother throughout the trial, an effort that is likely to intensify as the penalty phase begins. The defense presented fingerprint analysis by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation showing only Tamerlan’s fingerprints were found on a transmitter used to control the bombs.
Throughout the trial, Tsarnaev, who wore a suit coat and sometimes a collared shirt, appeared alert and attentive. He walked into the courtroom unshackled each morning in a confident manner that some observers called a swagger. He often chatted with his attorneys and looked closely at exhibits on a video monitor in front of him.
At the end of the day, Tsarnaev sometimes stood with his hands on his hips while jurors left the courtroom.
Jurors meanwhile wept often during the trial, including when they reviewed autopsy photos of the victims and heard medical examiners testify in clinical detail about the process of bleeding to death from blast injuries.
The government’s last witness was the state’s chief medical examiner, Henry Nields, who testified there was almost no part of 8-year-old Martin Richard’s small body that wasn’t injured. His stomach and spinal cord were almost cut in half, his left arm was practically severed, and he suffered third-degree burns, Nields said.
Jurors also saw the shredded bloodstained clothing the child wore on the day he died, and a pile of small nails, BBs, wood and metal fragments extracted from his body. They also saw a belt someone had tied on him as a tourniquet.
The government finished its case with a photograph taken in the minutes before the explosion that ended the boy’s life. The image, captured by a spectator, showed Tsarnaev lurking behind a thin tree planted along the sidewalk while Martin Richard, his father, mother, sister and brother stood nearby, watching the runners pass by.
The case is U.S. v. Tsarnaev, 13-cr-10200, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).