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US Jury to Decide: Death or Life in Prison for Boston Marathon Bomber


In this courtroom sketch, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, second from left, is depicted standing with his defense attorneys William Fick, left, Judy Clarke, second from right, and David Bruck, right, as the jury presents its verdict, April 8, 2015.

After convicting Chechen immigrant Dzhokhar Tsarnaev of the deadly 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, jurors will take a few days off before deciding whether to sentence him to death or life in prison.

After two days of deliberations in a federal trial, the jury convicted Tsarnaev Wednesday of all 30 charges he faced, including 17 that carry a possible death penalty. The sentencing phase of the trial, which could begin as early as Monday, will be held in the same U.S. courtroom.

Jurors would have to vote unanimously to sentence the 21-year-old to death.

The defense lawyers, who barely cross-examined the prosecution's witnesses during the first part of the trial, are expected to become much more aggressive during the penalty phase, when they will make a case that Tsarnaev's life should be spared.


Tsarnaev's conviction was practically a foregone conclusion: His lawyers admitted he participated in the bombings, in which two homemade, shrapnel-packed pressure-cooker bombs were placed near the finish line of the annual race. The explosion killed three people, including an 8-year-old boy, and injured another 264, with 17 people losing limbs and many others maimed from flying shrapnel.

But during the trial, defense attorney Judy Clarke argued that Tsarnaev, then 19, fell under the influence of his radicalized older brother, Tamerlan, 26.

Clarke, who has successfully kept other notorious U.S. murder convicts off death row, told the jury in her closing argument, "If not for Tamerlan, it [the bombing] would not have happened."

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed days after the April 15, 2013, blasts, when he was shot by police and run over by his brother during a chaotic getaway attempt. The brothers also shot to death a university patrol officer while attempting to flee authorities.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who lived in the United States for a decade before the bombings, was later found hiding in a boat parked in the backyard of a suburban Boston home.

Prosecutors said he scrawled a motive for the attack on the inside wall of the boat, writing that the brothers were trying to avenge American attacks on Muslims in the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Defense case

Legal analysts said they don't expect the defense case to contain any new revelations about Tsarnaev.

"The crime is so horrific that they don't have much else really to point to, other than his age and the influence of his older brother," said Dan Collins, a former federal prosecutor who handled the case against a suspect in the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India.

"At this point, it's going to be the life experiences and the perspectives of the jurors in deciding whether or not they believe that these points are strong enough that his life should be spared," Collins said.

Meg Penrose, a death penalty expert and professor at Texas A&M University School of Law, said it will be difficult for the jury to overcome the image of Tsarnaev planting a bomb just behind a group of children, including 8-year-old Martin Richard, who was killed.

"In a crime of this magnitude, what American citizen wouldn't ask, 'What would drive a person to do this?' And, as a juror, the question becomes, what answer would satisfy you?" she said.

Massachusetts has not executed anyone since 1947.

The city's mayor, Marty Walsh, said he was glad to see the trial moving toward a conclusion.

"I am thankful that this phase of the trial has come to an end and am hopeful for a swift sentencing process," Walsh said. "I hope [Wednesday’s] verdict provides a small amount of closure for the survivors, families, and all impacted by the violent and tragic events."

Tsarnaev relative

Meanwhile, in Russia, a relative of the brothers said she remains "completely convinced that they were not guilty of this."

"These boys didn't need this," Rosa Tsarnaeva, a 66-year-old cousin of Tsarnaev's father, told The Associated Press. "They never saw war, they were little when they arrived in the U.S. and grew up there.

"No one in the Tsarnaev family, none of the relatives, ever took part in the military campaigns in Chechnya" in which separatists, some of them radical Islamists, fought two wars against Russian troops, she said.

The brothers' father, who also lives in Russia, has not answered repeated phone calls or responded to text messages seeking his comment.

Some material for this report came from AP and Reuters.

Watch a related video report by VOA's Zlatica Hoke:

Boston Jury to Mull Life or Death for Tsarnaev
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