BOSTON—Nearly two years after two pressure-cooker bombs ripped through a crowd of unsuspecting spectators near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, a federal jury found Dzhokhar Tsarnaev guilty on all 30 counts for his role in the deadly attacks, which killed three and injured nearly 300.
"We unanimously find the defendent Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev guilty," the court clerk said, again and again.
Tsarnaev, 21, offered no visible reaction to the charges, which were announced in a courtroom packed full of victims and survivors.
The decision came a day and a half after seven women and five men began deliberations in the first phase of the trial and after 17 days of emotional and often gruesome testimony and evidence in the case. Jurors repeatedly saw horrific photos and videos of the bloody aftermath of the bombs. They also heard heart-wrenching testimony from survivors, including the father of the youngest victim of the attacks—8-year-old Martin Richard--whose body was literally blown apart by the second bomb.
Federal prosecutors painted Tsarnaev as a heartless killer who conspired with his older brother, Tamerlan, to maim and kill Americans in retaliation for the country's wars on Muslim countries overseas. "This was a cold, calculated terrorist act. This was intentional. It was bloodthirsty. It was to make a point," government prosecutor Aloke Chakravarty told jurors Monday. "It was to tell America that ‘We will not be terrorized by you anymore. We will terrorize you.'"
Tsarnaev faced 30 charges for his role in the bombings, the deadliest act of terrorism on American soil since September 11, 2001. He was also charged with shooting and killing Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier days after the attacks and hours after the FBI released photos of him and his brother identifying them as suspects in the bombings. Though prosecutors acknowledged they were unsure which brother pulled the trigger, both were "equally guilty" of Collier's murder.
The verdict in the case wasn’t surprising. Judy Clarke, Tsarnaev’s attorney, admitted her client’s role in the attacks on day one of the trial, which began March 5, and reiterated it during closing arguments this week. “There is no excuse. No one is trying to make one,” Clarke told jurors Monday, calling the attack “inexcusable” and “senseless.”
But she cast Tsarnaev, now 21, as a troubled teenager who came under the sway of his radicalized older brother, whom the defense painted as the ringleader of the plot. They have argued Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was killed during a shootout with police days after the bombings, plotted the attack and built the bombs—and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev merely followed.
“We don’t deny that Dzhokhar fully participated in the events,” Clarke said. “But, if not for Tamerlan, it wouldn’t have happened.”
Yet Judge George O’Toole limited how much the defense could talk about Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s influence on his brother during the guilt phase of the trial. While the government put 92 witnesses on the stand over 16 days, Tsarnaev’s defense rested after just four witnesses over a day and a half in court. Clarke told jurors the defense would lay out more of their case in the penalty phase—when they determine whether the 21-year-old college student receives life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty for his role in the attacks.
Though the penalty portion of the case has long been expected to be more drawn out than the guilt phase, it’s unclear how long the defense’s case might be or who they plan to put on the stand to explain what pushed their client into terrorism. It’s also not clear how much the defense will be able to delve into the role of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and the troubled history of the Tsarnaev family, which had been believed to be the focus of their case.
A courthouse source told Yahoo News that wrangling continues between the government and defense over proposed witnesses in the penalty phase. The defense has long sought to explore Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s possible link to a 2011 triple murder in Waltham, Mass .—but the government has argued, and the judge has so far agreed, the subject is irrelevant.
It’s also a mystery who might testify on behalf of the defendant to ask that his life be spared. The witness list in the trial remains under seal, and many former friends and associates of Tsarnaev, who have publicly spoken of their shock at his involvement in the plot, have declined to say anything further about the teenager they knew. Asked if they’ve been summoned by the defense to testify, many associates contacted by Yahoo News refused to comment.
It’s also not clear if any members of the Tsarnaev family will testify. Since the trial began, not a single member of the Tsarnaev family has been seen at the courthouse—including Tsarnaev’s parents, who live in Dagestan, and his sisters, who live in New Jersey. Last summer, Tsarnaev’s sister, Ailina, told reporters her brothers had been “framed.” Tsarnaev’s uncles, who live in Maryland, also have not been seen in court and did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
The same 12 jurors who decided on Tsarnaev’s guilt will now decide whether he lives or dies for his role in in the attacks. That’s expected to be the trickier dilemma for the jury. Though all jurors agreed they could consider capital punishment for Tsarnaev, many people in Massachusetts oppose the death penalty for moral and religious reasons. It was declared unconstitutional on the state level in 1982, and though many in Boston are still recovering from the trauma of the attacks, which paralyzed the city for days, residents have mixed feelings about what should happen to Tsarnaev.
A recent WBUR poll conducted after the trial began found a majority of Boston residents believe Tsarnaev should receive life in prison instead of the death penalty. Victims of the bombings have offered mixed opinions about Tsarnaev’s fate. The Richard family has said they just want “justice.”
The penalty phase is expected to begin next week.