Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s lawyers rested their case Monday in their bid to save him from execution after death penalty opponent Sister Helen Prejean testified that he expressed genuine sorrow for the victims.
“No one deserves to suffer like they did,” Prejean quoted him as saying.
The prosecution wrapped up its case as well Monday. The sides will return Wednesday to give closing arguments, after which the federal jury will decide whether the 21-year-old Tsarnaev should be put to death or receive life in prison.
Prejean, a Roman Catholic nun whose story was told in the 1995 movie “Dead Man Walking,” starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn, met with Tsarnaev five times since March at the request of the defence.
Prejean, who smiled at Tsarnaev several times during her testimony, said she could hear “pain” in his voice when he said he regretted what happened to the victims in the 2013 attack, which left three people dead and more than 260 wounded.
“I had every reason to think that he was taking it in and that he was genuinely sorry for what he did,” Prejean testified as the final witness for the defence in the penalty phase of the trial.
Prosecutors had fought unsuccessfully to keep Prejean off the witness stand.
During cross-examination by prosecutor William Weinreb, Prejean acknowledged she’s considered one of the leading death penalty opponents in the country and believes no one deserves to be executed, no matter what the crime.
Liz Norden, the mother of brothers J.P. and Paul Norden, who each lost a leg in the bombings, was unmoved by what Prejean had to say about Tsarnaev.
“If he was that remorseful, then he should have gotten up on the stand and said how sorry he is,” Norden said. “To have other people get up and talk on his behalf, it means nothing to me.”
Tsarnaev was convicted of all 30 charges against him, including 17 that carry the possibility of the death penalty. He did not take the stand during either phase of the case.
The 12-member jury must be unanimous for him to get the death penalty. If even one juror votes against execution, he will be sentenced to life in prison.
The defence team called more than 40 witnesses during the penalty phase in hope of convincing the jury that Tsarnaev is a “good kid” who fell under the influence of his radical older brother, 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who died in a getaway attempt days after the bombing.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s teachers recalled a sweet, hardworking boy, while his Russian family members wept as they described a kind and gentle child who cried during “The Lion King.” A psychiatrist said Tsarnaev’s father struggled with severe post-traumatic stress disorder, while others described a mother who became obsessed with religion.
Prosecutors, during their case, called bombing victims who gave heartbreaking testimony about watching loved ones die or having their legs blown off. The government portrayed Tsarnaev as a full partner with his brother in the attack and someone so heartless that he planted a bomb behind a group of children, killing 8-year-old Martin Richard.
Hours after both sides rested in the trial, Tsarnaev’s lawyers filed a motion asking the judge to strike one of the aggravators cited by prosecutors in arguing for the death penalty.
In their filing, the defence said prosecutors have not shown the impact of the boy’s death on his family.
The victim impact factor centres on the prosecution’s contention Tsarnaev caused “injury, harm and loss” to the three fatally injured bombing victims and their families.
Tsarnaev’s lawyers said prosecutors “called no witnesses and offered no evidence” to establish the factor as it applies to Martin and his family.
“This means, at a minimum, that a jury cannot weight ‘victim impact’ as a factor on death’s side of the scales based solely on the jurors’ inevitably strong feelings of sympathy and grief for a young murder victim or for his family,” Tsarnaev’s lawyers wrote.
Prosecutors did not immediately respond to the defence motion.
The boy’s father, Bill Richard, testified during the first phase of the trial, but no one from his family testified during the sentencing phase.
Days before the sentencing phase began, Bill Richard and his wife, Denise Richard, released a statement to The Boston Globe in which they urged prosecutors to take the death penalty off the table in exchange for Tsarnaev serving the rest of his life in prison with no possibility of appeal.
Prosecutors rested their case in the first phase of the trial after calling Steve Woolfenden, a man who said he heard Denise Richard pleading with her son after the explosion left the boy mortally wounded.
Woolfenden said he could hear Denise Richard repeatedly say, “Martin. Please.” He said he looked at the boy and knew he was close to death.
Bill Richard also described looking at his son and knowing he could not be saved, then grabbing his younger daughter, Jane Richard, to get help for her. Her leg had been blown off.
Denise Lavoie, The Associated Press
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