Opening Statements To Begin Nearly 2 Years After Boston Bombing

Mar 4, 2015
Originally published on March 4, 2015 7:52 am
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Opening statements have begun this morning in the case of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokar Tsarnaev. A jury of eight men and 10 women will spend several months considering the federal charges against Tsarnaev - 30 charges in all. If he's convicted, those jurors will decide whether he should be given the death penalty. NPR's Tovia Smith reports.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Some of the jurors sitting in judgment of Tsarnaev have admitted they already believe he's guilty. But they've all insisted they can set that aside and decide this case based only on the evidence at trial. So now two years after the worst terrorist attack in the U.S. since 9/11, prosecutors get to make their case that Tsarnaev should be put to death for the, quote, "especially heinous, cruel and depraved attack" that turned the beloved Boston Marathon into a ghastly scene of death and destruction.

BRAD BAILEY: The reality is that this is show time and this is go time.

SMITH: Former federal prosecutor Brad Bailey says the government's opening will preview what they've portrayed as nearly irrefutable evidence.

BAILEY: They will show the jury how overwhelming the government feels the case is.

SMITH: Prosecutors say they have a mountain of evidence that includes video showing Tsarnaev with his backpack at the scene of the blast and then without it, bomb-making instructions and jihadist literature he downloaded onto his computer and a note in the boat where he was hiding justifying killing Americans.

BAILEY: The hand that the government is holding is so strong at this particular point. They have the evidence to take this all the way.

SMITH: In court this week, even Tsarnaev's attorneys seemed to acknowledge that a guilty verdict is almost a foregone conclusion. This case is all about sentencing, they said. They're focusing on trying to convince jurors that Tsarnaev was acting under duress and that he doesn't deserve to die because he was coerced by his older brother, who they say was the real mastermind behind the attack. Long-time Boston defense attorney Martin Weinberg says it makes sense with evidence this overwhelming that a lawyer would be wary of even trying to challenge it.

MARTIN WEINBERG: When the same lawyer looks at the same jury and looks at them in the eye and asks them to save their client's life, credibility is critical.

SMITH: It would only take one juror to hold out and vote against the death penalty, and Tsarnaev would automatically get life in prison with no parole. He could decide to just admit to all or most of the charges and jump right to sentencing. But Weinberg says that could be risky as well.

WEINBERG: If you as the lawyer essentially give up the trial, you may be also giving up one of the better appeal issues that you would have in the event of a conviction and in the event of a death sentence.

SMITH: That's something Tsarnaev's lawyers probably won't want to do. They've been very careful about preserving appeal options on other issues like whether the jury selection process was fair. Lawyers have made it clear they're laser-focused on appealing a death sentence as much as they are on trying to avoid one. Tovia Smith, NPR News in federal court, Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.