Boston Marathon bomber sentenced to death

Denise Lavoie
Associated Press

Boston — A jury sentenced Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death Friday for the Boston Marathon bombing, sweeping aside pleas that he was just a “kid” who fell under the influence of his fanatical older brother.

Tsarnaev, 21, stood with his hands folded, his head slightly bowed, upon learning his fate, sealed after 14 hours of deliberations over three days. It was the most closely watched terrorism trial in the U.S. since the Oklahoma City bombing case two decades ago.

The decision sets the stage for what could be the nation’s first execution of a terrorist in the post-9/11 era, though the case is likely to go through years of appeals. The execution would be carried out by lethal injection.

“Now he will go away and we will be able to move on. Justice. In his own words, ‘an eye for an eye,’ ” said bombing victim Sydney Corcoran, who nearly bled to death and whose mother lost both legs.

Anti-government extremist Timothy McVeigh was executed by lethal injection in June 2001 at age 33 for the April 19, 1995, bombing in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people and injured nearly 700 others.

His co-conspirator, Terry Nichols of Lapeer, Mich., was convicted on federal and state bombing-related charges and is serving multiple life sentences in a federal prison.

In Boston, three people were killed and more than 260 wounded when Tsarnaev and his brother set off two shrapnel-packed pressure-cooker bombs near the finish line of the race on April 15, 2013. The Tsarnaevs also shot an MIT police officer to death during their getaway.

The 12-member federal jury had to be unanimous for Tsarnaev to get the death penalty. Otherwise, the former college student would have automatically received a sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole.

In weighing the arguments for and against death, the jurors decided, among other things, that Tsarnaev showed a lack of remorse. And they emphatically rejected the defense’s central argument — that he was led down the path of terrorism by his big brother.

“Today the jury has spoken. Dzhokhar Tsrnaev will pay for his crimes with his life,” said U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz.

Tsarnaev’s father, Anzor Tsarnaev, reached by phone by the Associated Press in the Russian region of Dagestan, let out a deep moan upon hearing the news and hung up.

Tsarnaev’s lawyers had no comment as they left the courtroom.

The attack and the ensuing manhunt paralyzed the city for days and cast a pall over the marathon — normally one of Boston’s proudest, most exciting moments — that has yet to be lifted.

With Friday’s decision, community leaders and others talked of closure, of resilience, of the city’s Boston Strong spirit.

“Today, more than ever, we know that Boston is a city of hope, strength and resilience that can overcome any challenge,” said Mayor Marty Walsh.

Tsarnaev was convicted last month of all 30 charges against him, including use of a weapon of mass destruction. Seventeen of those charges carried the possibility of a death sentence.

Tsarnaev’s chief lawyer, death penalty specialist Judy Clarke, admitted at the very start of the trial that he participated in the bombings, bluntly telling the jury: “It was him.”

But the defense argued that Dzhokhar was an impressionable 19-year-old who was led astray by his volatile and domineering 26-year-old brother, Tamerlan, who was portrayed as the mastermind of the plot to punish the U.S. for its wars in Muslim countries.

Tamerlan died days after the bombing when he was shot by police and run over by Dzhokhar during a chaotic getaway attempt.

Prosecutors depicted Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as an equal partner in the attack, saying he was so cold-hearted he planted a bomb on the pavement behind a group of children, killing an 8-year-old boy.

To drive home their point, prosecutors cited the message he scrawled in the dry-docked boat where he was captured: “Stop killing our innocent people and we will stop.” And they opened their case in the penalty phase with a startling photo of him giving (a defiant gesture) to a security camera in his jail cell months after his arrest.

“This is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev —unconcerned, unrepentant and unchanged,” prosecutor Nadine Pellegrin said.

The jurors also heard grisly and heartbreaking testimony from numerous bombing survivors who described seeing their legs blown off or watching someone next to them die.

Killed in the bombing were Lingzi Lu, a 23-year-old Boston University graduate student from China; Krystle Campbell, a 29-year-old restaurant manager from Medford; and 8-year-old Martin Richard, who had gone to watch the marathon with his family. Massachusetts Institute of Technology police Officer Sean Collier was shot to death in his cruiser days later.

Seventeen people lost legs in the bombings.

The speed with which the jury reached a decision surprised some, given that it had to fill out a detailed, 24-page worksheet in which the jurors tallied up the factors for and against the death penalty.

Tsarnaev did not take the stand at his trial, and he slouched through most of the case, a seemingly bored look on his face. In his only flash of emotion during the months-long case, he cried when his Russian aunt took the stand.

U.S. District Judge George O’Toole Jr. will formally impose the sentence at a later date during a hearing in which bombing victims will be allowed to speak. Tsarnaev will also be given the opportunity then to address the court.