Moments before a federal judge sentenced him to death, Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev rose to his feet Wednesday and apologized to the victims and their loved ones for the first time.
"I pray for your relief, for your healing,'' he said.
Amid deep silence in the courtroom, the 21-year-old ethnic Chechen said, "I am sorry for the lives that I've taken, for the suffering that I've caused you, for the damage that I've done — irreparable damage.''
It was the first time Tsarnaev, who did not speak in his own defense at trial, had addressed the court.
After Tsarnaev finished, U.S. District Judge George O'Toole Jr. began to speak, with his voice breaking several times. He officially imposed the death sentence on Tsarnaev that jurors had recommended unanimously.
In May, after a 12-week trial, Tsarnaev was found guilty of killing three people and injuring 264 in the April 15, 2013, bombing at the world-renowned race, where he and his brother, Tamerlan, 26, set off two pressure-cooker bombs near the finish line.
Tsarnaev was also found guilty in the fatal shooting of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer three days later as he and his brother fled. Tamerlan was killed during the getaway.
Tsarnaev was found guilty of all 30 terrorism and other charges against him. Of those, 17 carried the possibility of a death sentence.
During the penalty phase of the judicial proceedings, prosecutors brushed off defense arguments that Tsarnaev was under the strong influence of his older, radicalized brother.
Victims speak out
Before the sentencing, a somber-looking Tsarnaev, wearing a dark sport jacket with a collared shirt and no tie, sat between his lawyers and listened as 24 people — some victims, some survivors — gave impact statements. They lashed out at him for his “cowardly” and “disgusting” acts, and several called upon him to apologize, trying to convince him that this would be his last chance to ask for forgiveness.
Tsarnaev, his chair turned toward the lectern from which the victims spoke, picked at his beard and gazed downward most of the time, only occasionally looking at the speakers.
Patricia Campbell, the mother of Krystle Campbell, 29, who was killed in the attack, was the first person to address the court. She looked across the room at Tsarnaev, seated about 20 feet away, and spoke directly to him.
“What you did to my daughter is disgusting,” she said. “I don't know what to say to you. I think the jury did the right thing.”
Krystle Campbell's best friend, Karen Rand McWatters, who lost a leg in the attack, said Tsarnaev "can't possibly have had a soul to do such a horrible thing.”
In a message he scrawled in the boat he was found hiding in, Tsarnaev said the attack was retaliation against the U.S. for its wars in Muslim countries. McWatters urged Tsarnaev to show remorse to discourage other jihadis from killing people in similar attacks. “You can save them from these cowardly acts if you really have an ounce of regret,” she said.
Rebekah Gregory, a Texas woman who lost a leg in the bombing, defiantly told Tsarnaev she was not his victim.
“While your intention was to destroy America, what you have really accomplished is actually quite the opposite — you've unified us,” she said. "We are Boston strong, we are America strong, and choosing to mess with us was a terrible idea. So how's that for your VICTIM impact statement?”
'He is a leech'
Several victims condemned Tsarnaev for coming to the U.S. as an immigrant from Russia, enjoying the benefits of living here and then attacking American citizens.
“He is a leech, abusing the privilege of American freedom, and he spit in the face of the American dream,” said Jennifer Rogers, an older sister of slain MIT Officer Sean Collier.
Bill Richard, whose 8-year-old son, Martin, was the youngest person killed in the bombing, said Tsarnaev could have backed out of the plot and reported his brother to authorities. Instead, Richard said, “he chose hate. He chose destruction. He chose death. This is all on him.”
Richard noted that his family would have preferred that Tsarnaev receive a life sentence so that he could have had “a lifetime to reconcile with himself what he did that day.”
Richard said his family has chosen love, kindness and peace, adding: “That is what makes us different than him.”
Fatima Tlisova of VOA's Russian service contributed to this report from Boston. Some information for this report came from Reuters and AP.