A fascinating scene played out in Boston Federal Court today, as several of Boston Marathon Bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev’s relatives broke down in tears while testifying about his childhood.
Having already convicted Tsarnaev of participating in the bombing and its aftermath, the jury is now considering whether to sentence him to death or to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Whereas the first part of the trial addressed whether Tsarnaev was criminally responsible for the bombing, this section of the trial considers the appropriate punishment. Therefore, while the first part of the trial dealt with the evidence establishing guilt, we are now listening to reasons for why Tsarnaev might have participated in the bombing to begin with.
The defense theme throughout both parts of the trial has been that the defendant’s older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was a radical who masterminded the entire plot. Meanwhile, according to the defense attorneys, Dzokhar idolized his brother and was willing to do anything to receive his approval. Evidence that was previously presented suggested that Tamerlan researched how to build the bombs and distributed literature related to radicalism.
During the several weeks that the trial has been ongoing, onlookers have been closely watching the defendant to see if he showed any emotion during the gut-wrenching testimony of the bombing victims. The prosecution elicited heartbreaking testimony about people losing their legs and a father who made the impossible decision to leave his dying son on the sidewalk to assist his seriously injured daughter. The facts of the case are as evil as you will ever see. However, according to reports from inside the courtroom, the defendant never lost his composure and never shed a tear. That ended today, as the defendant’s family members took the stand. One of the defendant’s aunts, who is the sister of the defendant’s mother, took the stand and immediately began to cry uncontrollably. As she attempted, unsuccessfully, to regain her composure, the defendant appeared to cry and wiped his eyes with a tissue. Later in the day, a second aunt and a cousin testified that the defendant was a well mannered boy before the family moved to the United States. The defendant blew them a kiss after they concluded their testimony.
Other relatives told the jury that the defendant had led a normal childhood before his mother began to accept more extreme Islamic positions. They said the defendant’s mother became much more conservative while living in the United States, whereas she was not particularly interested in religion when she first came to the country. Overall, it was a draining day in court with most of the witnesses crying during their testimony.
The jury has two choices – it can sentence the defendant to death or it can sentence him to serve the remainder of his life in prison without the possibility of parole. A verdict of death must be unanimous, so if even one of the 12 jurors disagrees, the defendant will receive a life sentence. If Tsarnaev receives life, he will likely serve his sentence at the Supermax Prison in Colorado, which houses many of the country’s most notorious prisoners including “twentieth hijacker” Zacarias Moussaoui, World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef, shoe bomber Richard Reid, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols, and Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph.