The Prosecution’s and Defense’s Closing Arguments, in Conversation

A courtroom sketch shows accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev during closing arguments.
A courtroom sketch shows accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev during closing arguments. –REUTERS/Jane Flavell Collins

In Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s trial, the prosecution and defense both agreed on “the who, what, where, and when,’’ defense attorney Judy Clarke said in closing statements. “We very much disagreed on the why.’’

The “why’’ was the focus of arguments during closing statements. For the government, Aloke Chakravarty spoke for just over an hour, showing a level of emotion not previously seen from prosecutors in the case. Clarke’s defense, accepting responsibility but casting Tsarnaev’s older brother Tamerlan as the driving force of the crimes, lasted about an hour and a half. Prosecutor William Weinreb then handled the rebuttal, slamming the defense’s argument as an attempt to avoid responsibility for Tsarnaev’s actions.


The government and defense’s arguments focused on four major points attempting to explain that “why’’: the brothers’ relationship, the political nature of the crimes, Tsarnaev’s personal life, and his independent choices. On the question of his guilt, both sides appeared to be in agreement.

Government allegation: Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev were equal partners who coordinated and planned together.

Government: “It’s clear that both the defendant and his brother were partners … They each had their roles.’’

Defense: “We don’t deny that Dzhokhar fully participated in the events. But if not for Tamerlan, it would not have happened.’’

Government: Dzhokhar and Tamerlan shared the same hat. “They were a team. That’s how they rolled.’’

Defense: “We need to understand who was leading and who was following.’’

Government: “They were partners in crime. These crimes were a two-man job. … They were co-conspirators. They were partners. And that makes them equally guilty.’’

Defense: “Tamerlan led and Dzhokhar followed.’’

Government: “The thing is, that’s not a defense. That’s just the defendant’s efforts to dodge full responsibility for what he did.’’

Government allegation: Tsarnaev’s actions were “political’’ and inspired by terrorism.

Government: “He wanted to terrorize this country. He wanted to punish America for what it was doing to his people … This was a terrorist conspiracy. They were trying to inflict terror.’’


Defense: “The government cherry-picked’’ tweets of jihadi nature and left out others. “Let’s be honest about how prominent [jihadi ideas] were in his life and when.’’

Government: “He did what terrorists do after they commit terrorist acts. He wanted his actions to stand for more than what people might think. He wanted to tell the world why he did what he did. … He was making a statement: An eye for an eye. You kill us, we kill you.’’

Defense: “It wasn’t a message to the world. It was a 19-year-old’s attempt to write about what they did.’’

Government: “These were deliberate choices. These were political choices. He thought his values were more important than anyone else.’’

Defense: “While he bought into the plan and bought into the beliefs and passion that drove the plan … he was an adolescent and also doing adolescent things.’’

Government: “He believed in it enough to murder people … His actions speak louder than words. … He was a true believer in radical extremism.’’

Government allegation: Tsarnaev lived a double life as a laid-back teenager and a radicalized jihadist.

Government: “The defendant had led a double life. To the outside world he showed one face. On the inside, he harbored another.’’

Defense: “This is a teenager doing teenage things.’’

Government: “[After the bombing,] the defendant acted as if nothing happened. … The defendant was publicly pretending to be just like everyone else. … [Tsarnaev] coolly, about 20 minutes later, went to Whole Foods to get the half gallon of milk he wanted.’’


Defense: “The government makes a big deal out of buying the milk and going to the gym. It is bizarre. About as bizarre as going back into the Mobil station to put the Doritos back down. … It’s about as disconnected as that.’’

Government: [When Tsarnaev wrote the note in the boat,] “He had no one whispering in his ear what to say.’’

Defense: “Overall he bought into his brother’s plan and his actions, and as the boat writing suggests, was convinced they were right.’’

Government allegation: Tsarnaev made a series of deliberate choices on his own during the course of those days.

Government: “Seeing the children. Seeing the Richard family. … [Tsarnaev was] hiding behind a tree, looming over a row of children. … He decided to place [the bomb] here. … He could have at any time picked up that knapsack and moved it, but he didn’t.’’

Defense: “He stops at the tree, not the children.’’

Government: “He decided where to plant his own bomb. … He was looking for the most crowded spot he could find. One where he could do the most damage.’’

Defense: “It does not make it better, but let’s not make his intent any worse than it was.’’

Government: “[After Tamerlan was subdued by police,] the defendant was all alone, and he had choices to make. … [Tsarnaev drove the Mercedes and tried to] mow down the officers. … Why did he do it? He did it in the hopes of killing three more police officers.’’

Government: “Defendant was acting entirely on his own. It shows you how independent he was.’’

Government allegation: Tsarnaev is guilty of the crimes he is charged with.

Government: “There was nothing about this day that was a twist of fate. This was a cold, calculated terrorist attack. It was intentional. It was bloodthirsty.’’

Defense: “There is no excuse. No one is trying to make one.’’

Government: “It’s the result of the defendant’s choice. … These are choices he was proud of.’’

Defense: “What does any of this matter … It matters because you are entitled to know the full picture.’’

Government: “Now is the time to hold him accountable, to find him responsible for each of the charges in the indictment. We ask you to do that now.’’

Defense: “We are not asking you to go easy on Dzhokhar. We are not asking you to not hold him responsible for what he did. … The time is now.’’

Jump To Comments