Cornered and bleeding from a gunshot wound, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev revealed his true self when he scrawled what he thought were his dying words, a prosecutor said.
“Americans need to be punished,” the admitted Boston Marathon bomber wrote as police converged on a backyard where he lay hidden inside a dry-docked boat, the prosecutor said.
The words came in a moment of clarity, Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Mellin told jurors Wednesday in Boston federal court. They show the 21-year-old’s true nature -- they show he should be executed, Mellin said.
“There is no just punishment for that other than death,” the prosecutor argued, choking up as he recalled testimony of victims and families during Tsarnaev’s trial. “Their pain will never go away.”
The 12-member jury began deliberating Wednesday after closing arguments on whether Tsarnaev should die for killing three and injuring hundreds in the April 2013 bombing and later shooting a police officer to death. A unanimous jury is required for the death penalty.
The jurors last month found the former college student guilty on all counts after his lawyer admitted his involvement on the first day of the trial.
With his guilt never really in doubt, defense attorney Judy Clarke, who has worked on some of the highest-profile death penalty cases in the U.S., urged jurors on Wednesday to impose a life sentence.
Tsarnaev was under the sway of his older brother, Tamerlan, who was killed during a manhunt in the days after the bombing, Clarke said. When their parents divorced and moved back to Russia, Tamerlan filled the void with radicalism and dragged his little brother into it, she argued.
“Dzhokhar would never have done this if not for Tamerlan,” Clarke told jurors.
She asked the panel to think about her client’s future, saying life behind bars would still be a harsh and appropriate sentence.
“He’s the person you’ve got to make your individual decision about,” Clarke said. “You are now going to make a decision about who he is, who he was and who he might become.”
The defense attorney said she wasn’t seeking sympathy for Tsarnaev while citing his upbringing and troubled home life. The bomber, a naturalized U.S. citizen from the Russian republic of Dagestan, was “an invisible child” in a chaotic family, she said.
His mother, Zubeidat, had traded the flashy clothes and fur coats she frequently wore for black robes and radical Islam, Clarke said. His parents’ divorce and decision to leave the U.S. in 2012 left Tsarnaev without “what little guidance and support” he once had, the attorney said.
Prosecutor William Weinreb argued that there was no proof Tsarnaev had been controlled and that he was not dependent on his older brother financially or emotionally. The younger sibling earned plenty of cash selling marijuana, he said.
“Where is the evidence of brainwashing or of mind control?” Weinreb said. “You haven’t heard it from the mouths of witnesses in this case. You have only hear it from defense attorneys.”
Mellin, the other prosecutor, also dismissed the defense’s claim.
“They were partners in crime and brothers in arms,” he said. “Both decided they wanted to punish America in way that would win them glory and a place in paradise.”
In his note during the manhunt, Mellin said, the younger Tsarnaev said that although killing civilians is wrong it was justified in this case.
“No remorse. No apology,” said the prosecutor. “Those are the words of a terrorist convinced he has done the right thing. He felt justified in killing and maiming innocent men, women and children.”
According to the evidence at the trial, Tsarnaev wrote inside the boat that “the U.S. Government is killing our innocent civilians but most of you already know that.” He also said, “I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished.”
Weinreb argued that life in prison is minimum punishment allowed under law.
“Or do these four deaths demand something more?” he said.
The case is U.S. v. Tsarnaev, 13-cr-10200, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).