US & Canada

Boston Marathon trial: Tsarnaev faces execution

Joe Kebartas of South Boston protests the death penalty outside of the entrance to the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption New England is traditionally liberal, but those values are being tested during the trial

The evidence against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the suspect in the Boston bombing case, is overwhelming. But will jurors in liberal Massachusetts sentence him to death?

Mr Tsarnaev walked into Courtroom Nine of the John Joseph Moakley Federal Courthouse.

With sideburns and pale skin, he joked with his lawyers, trying to figure out where he should sit.

During opening arguments, Assistant US Attorney William Weinreb said Mr Tsarnaev not only killed people, he was nonchalant before he did it.

"He pretended to be a spectator," said Mr Weinreb, describing him at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, where Mr Tsarnaev and his late brother are accused of leaving explosive devices. "Though he had murder in his heart."

Mr Weinreb said: "The defendant stood there for nearly four minutes." He waited until he was "a safe distance away" and then set off the bomb.

It was close to Martin Richard, a student at Neighborhood House Charter School. He was killed by the blast.

"Martin was eight years old," said Mr Weinreb. "The bomb tore large chunks of flesh out of Martin's body."

Two others, Krystle Campbell, 29, a restaurant manager, and Lingzi Lu, 23, a graduate student at Boston University, were also killed. In addition, the bombs maimed 16 people and injured 260 others.

Prosecutors said Mr Tsarnaev and his brother later killed Sean Collier, 27, an MIT police officer.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Heather Abbott, who lost a leg in the bombing, travelled to court

Prosecutors have plenty of evidence against him. So much, in fact, that three of the people chosen to be jurors or alternates reportedly said they believe he is guilty. They are supposed to keep an open mind during the trial.

In the courtroom, the jurors listened closely. Occasionally they glanced at the judge. The room was brightly lit, with light green carpeting and a built-in bookshelf. Thick law books were packed tightly into the shelves behind his desk.

Mr Tsarnaev's lawyer, Judy Clarke, didn't deny her client was involved.

"It was him," she said. However, the defence argued the real mastermind was Mr Tsarnaev's brother Tamerlan, who died during a police shootout - and after Dzhokhar hit him with a car during the chaos.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a student at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth at the time of the crime. Before the bombings, he tweeted about having "zombie apocalypse" dreams.

Mr Weinreb says one of the striking aspects of the case was how Mr Tsarnaev looked after the bombings. He "acted as if he didn't have a care in the world," Mr Weinreb said.

This was also how Tsarnaev acted in the courtroom most of the time.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Members of Tsarnaev's defence team enter the courthouse

Occasionally he showed signs of stress. He bit his fingernails. He scratched the back of his head. He fidgeted.

He faces 30 criminal charges, including use of a weapon of mass destruction. Seventeen of these charges could lead to the death penalty. He has pleaded not guilty.

In front of the courthouse, Zoe Hochstein-Morran, a sophomore at Northeastern University, waited to enter. Furry earmuffs dangled from her purse, The marathon finish line - the place where the bombs went off - is about two miles away.

For her and others in Massachusetts, capital punishment is complicated. "The death penalty is such a big thing," she said. "It's someone's life."

She held both her hands out, as if trying to balance scales of justice above the sidewalk.

"Is death really the right answer?" she said. "Is that going to bring people closure - I don't know."

The death penalty was taken off the books for state cases in Massachusetts decades ago. But this is a federal case - with a personal angle.

Most of those individuals who responded to a Boston Globe poll in July said they supported the decision to pursue the death penalty.

"Some people say, 'Well, he deserves it," said Daniel Medwed, a professor at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston.

Even those who see themselves as liberals have begun to re-evaluate their beliefs.

Politicians who've said they oppose capital punishment, for instance, have now fallen silent.

If the jurors find him guilty of any of these charges, they would then decide whether to condemn him to death. The decision to enact the death penalty has to be unanimous.

Out of 229 federal cases over the past three and a half decades, juries have agreed on a death sentence only one-third of the time.

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