Defense attorneys for convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev rested their case Monday in the penalty phase of his trial, after calling more than 40 witnesses over eight days.
The government then launched a brief rebuttal case, calling two witness for the stand before resting. Closing arguments are scheduled for Wednesday, May 13, before jurors decide whether Tsarnaev is sentenced to life in prison at ADX in Colorado or put to death.
Arguing that their client should be spared the death penalty, Tsarnaev’s lawyers deflected blame onto Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Dzhokhar’s older brother and co-conspirator of the bombing and ensuing events that killed four and injured more than 260.
The defense called a range of witnesses who testified to Tamerlan’s sometimes irrational and violent character, the Tsarnaev family dynamic, and the Dzhokhar they once knew.
In an attempt to show Tamerlan’s ability to influence, defense attorneys called relatives and friends of Tamerlan’s widow, Katherine Russell, to testify. They said Tamerlan could be emotionally abusive toward Russell. Over time, they said, she changed, growing more serious and religious after converting to Islam.
When Tamerlan traveled to Russia in 2012, Russell made online searches for, “If your husband becomes a shahid what are the rewards for you’’ and “rewards for wife of mujahideen.’’
According to documents read in court, Magomed Kartashov, Tamerlan’s cousin in Russia, said Tamerlan made that trip “with the intention of fighting jihad in the forest.’’
Character witnesses for Tsarnaev, including former teachers, friends, and relatives flown in from Russia, described him as a once-promising student, athlete, and overall “sunny child.’’ They expressed shock and regret that the Dzhokhar they once knew committed such an atrocious act.
The defense attempted to further delineate the difference between the brothers’ attitudes by calling to the stand the two paramedics who treated them after their captures. While Tamerlan was combative, they testified, Dzhokhar was largely cooperative.
During opening statements in the penalty phase, defense attorney David Bruck argued that prison life would be miserable for Tsarnaev and that sending him to ADX is “the better choice. For everyone.’’
Emphasis was often placed on Chechen culture, in which younger brothers traditionally obey their older brothers, especially in the case of an absent father — driving home the defense’s point that Tamerlan wielded strong influence over his younger brother in the marathon plot.
Tsarnaev showed emotion for the first time in court when his aunt Patimat Suleimanov took the stand. She began sobbing uncontrollably on the stand, and her anguish brought Tsarnaev to tears.
The last witness called to the stand was Sister Helen Prejean, a Roman Catholic nun and death penalty opponent. During her brief testimony, she said she discussed Tsarnaev’s crimes with him, and their impact on the victims.
During that discussion, she said, “He said it emphatically: He said no one deserves to suffer like they did.’’