Boston mayor hopes Tsarnaev verdict gives victims closure

Bomb survivor ‘grateful’ for outcome but says incident not something ‘you’ll ever be over’

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker says he "would support the death penalty" following the guilty verdict found against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev -- but says that is for the jury to decide. Video: Reuters


In the silent well of Courtroom Nine, a clerk read out the jury’s verdicts: Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. The word echoed in the courtroom as the clerk pronounced it 30 times, once for each of 30 main counts.

By the end of the 25-minute roll call of charges, which included 69 related questions, a federal jury here had left no doubt how thoroughly it sided with the government against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in the 2013 bombings at the Boston Marathon, the worst terrorist attack on American soil since September 11th, 2001.

The verdicts set the stage for a second, more contentious phase of the trial, in which the same jury will decide whether to sentence Tsarnaev (21) to life in prison or death.

“I hope today’s verdict provides a small amount of closure for the survivors, families and all impacted by the violent and tragic events surrounding the 2013 Boston Marathon,” Mayor Martin J. Walsh said. “The incidents of those days have forever left a mark on our city.”

This next phase is likely to bring the age-old debate over the merits of the death penalty to the fore in Boston, an unlikely setting because sentiment here runs so deeply against it. Massachusetts abolished capital punishment in 1984 and has not executed anyone since 1947. Tsarnaev faces the death penalty because he has been convicted of federal crimes.

‘US betrayed’

The prosecution will argue that he should be executed, saying that he acted in a heinous, cruel and depraved manner and betrayed the United States after becoming a citizen, and that he has shown no remorse. If the death penalty were ever justified, the government will argue, it is in this case.

The defence team’s goal is to keep Tsarnaev off death row. Defence lawyers will stress what they believe to be mitigating circumstances: that he was 19 at the time, had no criminal record and was being manipulated by his older brother, Tamerlan (26). They will also delve into his personal and family history to show how he was buffeted by forces beyond his control, from the unsettled politics of his home region of Chechnya to his parents’ divorce.

Tsarnaev, a failing college student and the youngest child in a dispersed immigrant family, gave little indication in court Wednesday that his life was on the line. As the verdicts were read, he stood without expression, his arms folded in front of him, flanked by his lawyers. The courtroom was packed with survivors and their families, some of whom had testified against Tsarnaev.

Survivors grateful

“We’re obviously grateful for the outcome today,” Karen Brassard, who suffered grievous leg injuries in the blast, said outside the courthouse. She called the outcome “one more step behind us,” though she noted that the bombing was “not something that you’ll ever be over.”

Other survivors took to social media to express their reactions. Sydney Corcoran (19), a witness whose femoral artery was severed in the blasts, wrote on Twitter: “Guilty like we all knew he would be. Great jurors.”

The bombings almost two years ago transformed one of the world’s most prestigious road races on a glorious spring afternoon into a scene of carnage with bodies strewn across Boylston Street, giving the nation a horrifying glimpse into the consequences of homegrown, self-taught terrorism.

The bombs, planted in retaliation for US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, killed three spectators, blew the limbs off 17 others and wounded 240 more, leaving many with life-altering injuries.

Expected verdict

There was little question that the jury would find Tsarnaev guilty of most charges; his lawyers admitted that he had been involved, and they put on a minimal defence, calling four witnesses who testified for five hours. The government, by contrast, called 92 witnesses over 15 days.

Still, it had seemed at least remotely possible that the jurors might acquit Tsarnaev on some of the lesser counts, including a seemingly tangential charge in relation to a transit police officer who may have been inadvertently shot by other police officers. But when they came back after a day and a half with guilty on every charge and every related question, they appeared to magnify the challenge facing defense lawyers in the next phase.

“The defence can’t make this a referendum on their client, because he isn’t very sympathetic, so they’re going to turn it into a referendum on the death penalty,” said Michael D. Kendall, a former federal prosecutor. “And the big choice for the jury is going to be which is more cruel, life without parole for a young man or the death penalty?” Mr Kendall said. “They’ll pick whichever they think is worse.”

New York Times