Defense: Tsarnaev carried out Boston Marathon bombing

Denise Lavoie
Associated Press

Boston — The question, for all practical purposes, is no longer whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev took part in the Boston Marathon bombing. It’s whether he deserves to die for it.

In a blunt opening statement at the nation’s biggest terrorism trial in nearly 20 years, Tsarnaev’s own lawyer flatly told a jury that the 21-year-old former college student committed the crime.

“It WAS him,” said defense attorney Judy Clarke, one of the nation’s foremost death-penalty specialists.

But in a strategy aimed at saving Tsarnaev from a death sentence, she argued that he had fallen under the malevolent influence of his now-dead older brother, Tamerlan.

“The evidence will not establish and we will not argue that Tamerlan put a gun to Dzhokhar’s head or that he forced him to join in the plan,” Clarke said, “but you will hear evidence about the kind of influence that this older brother had.”

Three people were killed and more than 260 hurt when two shrapnel-packed pressure-cooker bombs exploded near the finish line on April 15, 2013. Tsarnaev, then 19, was accused of carrying out the attacks with 26-year-old Tamerlan, who was killed in a shootout and getaway attempt days later.

Authorities contend the brothers — ethnic Chechens who arrived from Russia more than a decade ago — were driven by anger over U.S. wars in Muslim lands.

Federal prosecutors used their opening statements, along with heartbreaking testimony and grisly video, to sketch a picture of torn-off limbs, ghastly screams, pools of blood, and the smell of sulfur and burned hair in the streets of Boston. They painted Tsarnaev as a cold-blooded killer.

Tsarnaev planted a bomb designed to “tear people apart and create a bloody spectacle,” then hung out with his college buddies as if he didn’t have a care in the world, prosecutor William Weinreb said.

“He believed that he was a soldier in a holy war against Americans,” Weinreb said. “He also believed that by winning that victory, he had taken a step toward reaching paradise.”

Among the first witnesses for the prosecution were two women who lost legs in the attack, including Rebekah Gregory, who walked slowly to the stand on an artificial limb.

About two dozen victims who came to watch the case took up an entire side of the courtroom, listening somberly to details of the carnage. Several hung their heads and appeared to fight back tears.