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Jury sentences Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death on six counts

Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is depicted in a courtroom sketch at the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse Wednesday. ILLUSTRATION BY REBECCA NESS/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is depicted in a courtroom sketch at the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse Wednesday. ILLUSTRATION BY REBECCA NESS/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

After more than 14 hours of jury deliberation, convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was sentenced to death Friday, ending a two-month trial that retraced the story of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, the years leading up to them and the violence that ensued in the days after.

As the court clerk read the verdict to the packed courtroom in the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse, Tsarnaev stared straight ahead, glancing down occasionally, as his defense team took notes. Wearing a black suit and lifting his hand to scratch his beard, Tsarnaev rarely looked at the jury, though several jurors had their eyes glued to his unmoving face. As the verdict was read, the courtroom was virtually silent.

Tsarnaev, 21, was found guilty on 30 counts, 17 of which carried a possible death penalty, after helping to carry out the bombings that killed three and injured more than 260 at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. The jurors handed down a death sentence for six of the 17 charges in the penalty phase of the trial, which began April 21.

Though the former University of Massachusetts Dartmouth student initially pled not guilty to all counts, the trial was never a question of guilt. From day one of the trial’s initial phase, defense attorney Judy Clarke admitted: “He did it.” The next two months, both in the guilt phase and the penalty phase, focused rather on Tsarnaev’s path toward committing the crimes.

The jury’s decision in the penalty phase, ultimately one of life versus death, explored a series of questions from the prosecution and the defense teams.

These questions, compiled on a 24-page verdict slip, included gateway factors, statutory aggravating factors and non-statutory aggravating factors from the prosecution, intended to justify the death penalty, and mitigating factors from the defense, intended to lessen the culpability of Tsarnaev’s crimes.

A blank copy of the verdict slip from the Tsarnaev case.

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During deliberation, the jury weighed the aggravating factors and mitigating factors. In considering aggravating factors, jurors had to unanimously determine whether the government proved them to be true beyond any reasonable doubt. With mitigating factors, however, individual jurors could choose to agree, even if the majority of jurors did not. Choosing death for any count, however, had to be unanimous.

Ultimately, jurors collectively subscribed to all but one of the prosecution’s factors — the non-statutory aggravating factor that Tsarnaev made statements that suggest to justify “committing additional acts of violence and terrorism.”

Of the 21 mitigating factors, four had unanimous agreement, including Tsarnaev’s young age at the time of the crime and his father’s history of mental illness. However, some were less popular among the jurors, with two factors having only one juror sign on in support.

In fact, the jury was largely unconvinced in a number of mitigating factors that defined the defense’s case, such as the powerful influence of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Dzhokhar’s brother, on his radicalization and path toward violence. Though the defense argued that the defendant “would not have committed the crimes but for his older brother Tamerlan,” only three jurors felt the evidence strong enough to believe it.

The final mitigating factor, that “Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has expressed sorrow and remorse for what he did and for the suffering he caused,” directly opposed one of the prosecution’s non-statutory aggravating factors — “Dzhokhar Tsarnaev demonstrated a lack of remorse.” Though the jurors unanimously found the latter to be true for all capital counts, two jurors also agreed with the former.

Moving forward, the court will schedule a status conference and then a sentencing hearing, said U.S. District Court Judge George O’Toole, who presided on the case. Before dismissing the jury, O’Toole thanked them for their time and reminded them that their identities no longer need be kept confidential from the public and the media.

Several prosecutors, law enforcement officials and victims of the marathon held a press conference outside the courthouse following the verdict release, reflecting on ways in which the city has grown and changed in the past two years. U.S. Attorneys Carmen Ortiz and William Weinreb spoke on behalf of the prosecution.

“We feel very privileged to have represented the United States in this case,” Weinreb said. “It was our goal to make sure that the jury got all the information they needed to make a fair and impartial decision in this case. We wanted to make sure victims had the opportunity to tell their stories, and we wanted to make sure the entire story was told.”

Boston Police Commissioner William Evans said the verdict doesn’t change the circumstances of the tragedy, but it can bring everyone a bit of satisfaction.

“The most important thing is we sent the message that we’re not going to tolerate terrorism,” he said. “You’re not going to blow up our marathon. You’re not going to blow up our city.”

Karen Brassard, a survivor who took the stage with several other survivors, said Friday’s verdict lets her “breathe again,” but she wouldn’t describe the day as a time for celebration.

“Happy is not the word I would use,” she said. “There is nothing happy about having to take someone’s life. I am satisfied. I am grateful that they came to that conclusion because I think for me, that is the just conclusion.”

Before leaving the platform, one survivor, Carlos Arredondo, pulled out a large Boston Strong flag, and waved it across his body as he exited the area.

Dana Cohen, whose daughter had been injured in the bombing, said he was happy to be able to wear his Boston Strong bracelet again after having not been allowed to wear it in the courtroom.

“Prior to the bombing, the city was very strong,” he said. “I think it’s stronger now.”

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