BOSTON — Was Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trying to send an ominous "message" to America or was he simply preening?
That was the question at his federal trial Wednesday as prosecutors formally entered into evidence a video still of the now-convicted Boston Marathon bomber giving a courthouse security camera the middle finger.
The photo — long rumored but seen for the first time in court Tuesday — was captured as Tsarnaev waited to be arraigned on bombing charges in July 2013. Dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit with his face visibly scarred, Tsarnaev appears furious as he gestures to the camera.
"This is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev," prosecutor Nadine Pellegrini said as she showed the image to the jury during the government's opening statement Tuesday. "Unconcerned, unrepentant and unchanged."
Pellegrini likened the still to the defiant tone of the note Tsarnaev left in the Watertown, Mass., boat where he was captured just days after the attacks, calling it "one last message" from the bomber. But the defense introduced into evidence a video Wednesday suggesting Tsarnaev's behavior in the courthouse cell wasn't as defiant as the government made it seem.
In the series of clips, Tsarnaev is shown using what his attorney Miriam Conrad described as a "reflective surface" of the camera to fix his hair. At one point, he climbs up on a bench and peers into the camera, examining his injured face and touching his hair. He then briefly flashes a V sign, followed by the middle finger, before calmly climbing down.
Under cross-examination, Gary Oliveira, an official with the U.S. Marshals Service who was monitoring the security cameras that day, said he saw Tsarnaev make the gesture and alerted his colleagues, but waited two days to file a report about the incident — and only after he was asked by supervisors to do so.
Oliveira said he knew of no other incident that day involving Tsarnaev, who waited in the cell several hours before his arraignment. Jurors saw Tsarnaev walking and sitting calmly in his cell in other portions of the video.
Live coverage: The trial of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
Tsarnaev, 21, was convicted earlier this month of all 30 charges related to the April 2013 bombings that killed three and injured nearly 300. The jury is now considering whether he will receive life in prison or the death penalty for his role in the attacks.
Tsarnaev’s attorneys admitted their client participated in the attacks, but are expected to argue that he was a troubled teenager who came under the sway of his radicalized older brother, Tamerlan, who they have said was the mastermind of the terror plot. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a shootout with police four days after the bombings when his brother ran him over with a car while fleeing police.
Prosecutors say Tsarnaev was an equal partner in planning and carrying out the attacks, and is a cold-blooded killer who deserves the death penalty.
Tsarnaev was "determined and destined to be America's worst nightmare," Pellegrini argued Tuesday. She repeatedly called him a "willing" participant in the plot who was "callous and indifferent" to human life.
"You may hear about family dynamics, family history, family dysfunction," Pellegrini said. "But many people, millions of people, I would venture, face troubles throughout their lives. Who among them murders people with a bomb?"
Prosecutors have rejected defense attempts for a plea deal in the case, even though many of the bombing victims — and a majority of Bostonians — support a life sentence without parole.
They include the parents of 8-year-old Martin Richard — the youngest victim of the attacks — who asked prosecutors last week to "end the anguish" of the trial, and likely years of appeals, by taking the death penalty off the table.