Editor’s Note: A jury found Dzhokhar Tsarnaev guilty of all 30 counts stemming from his role in the Boston Marathon bombing. He now faces the possibility of being sentenced to death.
The following is an account of what happened during the closing arguments before the jury went into deliberation that was written on April 6.
Closing arguments in US v Dzhokhar Tsarnaev took place on April 6 at Moakley Federal Courthouse in Boston. Although proceedings were scheduled to begin at 9:00 am, the presiding judge, (Judge George O’Toole Jnr.), and the jury did not enter the courtroom until just prior to 10:00 am.
O’Toole began by issuing instructions to the jury and spoke for just over an hour on the manner in which the jury should consider the charges against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, what the government is expected to prove in this case and the legal definition of “aiding and abetting.” A short break was scheduled at 11:15 am prior to Aloke Chakravarty’s presentation of closing arguments on behalf of the government.
Chakravarty began speaking at 11:35 am in an effort to convince the jury of the defendant’s emnity toward America. He spoke of Tsarnaev’s perceived desire to “awaken the Mujahideen” and of the government’s belief that the defendant had made a conscious decision to time the bombing in relation to which he is charged for “Patriot’s Day”, (the day of the marathon), because of this day’s significance. Mention was made of the defendant’s intent to “punish America for what it’s doing to his people” and that the way in which he had chosen to do this was by “killing two young women and a child.” A short video clip was shown, which was obviously taken from above and beside the entrance to “The Forum” restaurant seconds before the second blast, showed the moment of the blast and a few seconds after the blast as the screen cleared.
Prior to returning to the subject of the bombing Chakravarty moved on to speak of the murder of Officer Shaun Collier, the alleged car-jacking of Dun Meng and the shootout at Watertown. He suggested that after his brother had been subdued by police the defendant had been faced with a choice and could well have chosen to surrender but that he instead elected to attempt to “kill police officers” by running them down with the Mercedes SUV in which he fled the scene. The “boat note” alleged to have been written by Tsarnaev was described by Chakravarty as “a message to the world” and as something which served to indicate that Tsarnaev was “proud of his actions.”
A video was then shown which depicted victims of the bombing immediately following the blasts. Sound was included for the first time and Chakravarty identified screaming which could be heard as “Krystal Cambell screaming in pain as she lay dying on the sidewalk.” (I understand that this video footage was that which was taken by Coulton Kilgore, who is a survivor of the bombing and was a witness for the prosecution.)
The injuries of both the victims and the survivors of the bombings were described at length and in graphic detail. Chakravarty described this video as showing Tsarnaev moving away from his backpack after placing it on the ground and said that he looked back in order to assure himself that he was a safe distance from the blast which was to follow.
Attention was then turned swiftly away from events in Boston and re-focused on Tsarnaev’s alleged “radicalization” and the deliberate nature of his plans. Officer Collier’s murder was said to be planned with intent and surveillance footage was shown in which it was possible to see a cyclist ride by Collier’s cruiser as witness for the prosecution, Nate Harman, states that he did on that night. Chakravarty then led the court back to Watertown at the time of the shootout, Tsarnaev’s temporary escape and his eventual arrest. The government’s closing arguments concluded at 1.00 pm with yet more graphic footage of the carnage unleashed by the bombs, but this time set to an accompanying sound track of chants which are said to have been found on the CD recovered from the Mercedes at Watertown.
Although the government’s closing arguments seemed to begin with the implication of a powerful presentation, Chakravarty’s propensity to jump randomly from one event to another, (and back again), lent a muddled narrative by which impact was lost. The setting of graphic footage of victims to what was purported to be “Islamic chants” shocked and horrified many. Remarks on this began immediately the judge and jury left the courtroom and this conversation was carried over to the cafeteria during lunch break. Several people sympathized with my personal disgust and said that they too perceived this to be disrespectful to the victims of this tragedy. I heard this described as “needless theatrics” and as “something you’d expect to see on ‘Law and Order’ rather than in a real courtroom.”
Judy Clarke began closing arguments by the defense at a little after 2:15 pm. She opened by wishing the court a “Good afternoon” and began to speak to the jury and those assembled about horror, grief, tragedy and pain in a manner similar to that she adopted in her opening statements for the defense. Ms. Clarke went on to speak of the survivors, of the victims and of the evidence. Her narrative in regard to the bombing of the Boston Marathon was cohesive and structured as she acknowledged her client’s responsibility in regard to these events and emphasized his intent to take responsibility for his actions.
As her narrative progressed she spoke of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s love for his brother and how he had “followed” his elder sibling. Although much was said to illustrate the normality of the defendant’s everyday life, Judy Clarke made much mention of Tamerlan Tsarnaev. She firmly placed responsibility on Tamerlan’s shoulders for the planning, organization and implementation of the bombing and the murder of Officer Shaun Collier and referenced the fact that while Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s fingerprints were found on many pieces of crucial evidence, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s prints were not.
At times during her closing arguments Judy Clarke opposed the government’s narrative of events. Many of us have wondered why Nate Harman, a witness for the prosecution, only saw Dzhokhar standing near Officer Collier’s cruiser and Ms. Clarke provided us with an answer. Her version of events has Tamerlan “squatted down trying to get Officer Collier’s gun.” Doubt was cast on the testimony of another witness for the prosecution, Stephen Silva. (Who has entered into a plea deal with the government and whose testimony against his former friend was a condition of that deal.)
Whilst Silva testified that Dzhokhar told him that he needed a gun, Judy Clarke pointed out that Tamerlan had researched the Ruger pistol on the internet and maintained that the Ruger pistol recovered at Watertown was always in Tamerlan’s possession. Silva’s testimony was also questioned in regard to his assertion that Dzhokhar attended the 2012 marathon with Silva’s twin brother. (The government have suggested that Dzhokhar’s purpose in this visit was to “case” the event.) Phone records produced by the defense seem to clearly indicate that this was not so. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev did not attend the 2012 Boston Marathon. He was in Dartmouth.
Chakravarty had earlier made mention of what the government claimed was Dzhokhar’s care in making sure he was a safe distance from the blast at the site of the second explosion. His defense claims that he was in fact perilously close.
In contrast to the government’s claim that the “boat note” was a “message to the world”, the defense describe these writings as ” a nineteen year old’s attempt to explain why they did what they did.” At the very end of closing arguments for the defense Judy Clarke returned to Stephen Silva’s testimony regarding the dominent role Tamerlan Tsarnaev played in the life of his younger brother. She then promised that we had much more to learn about Tamerlan Tsarnaev and once more requested of the jury that they “keep their hearts and minds open.”
Judy Clarke is a much more talented orator than Aloke Chakravarty and her more structured presentation was far easier to follow. It was obvious that Ms. Clarke succeeded in immediately gaining and retaining the full attention of her audience. I perceived her performance to be skillful in that she acknowledged and sympathized with the victims of this crime yet at the same time tactfully attempted to elicit some understanding of her client and of his relationship with his elder brother. My only criticism would be that having shed doubt on Stephen Silva’s testimony Judy Clarke then afforded this witness’s testimony credibility in regard to his observations on Dzhokhar’s relationship with his brother.
William Weinreb offered a brief rebuttal in which he sought to convince the jury of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s murderous intent and that the “boat note” was a declation of Tsarnaev’s “truest beliefs.” He decried the defenses closing arguments and asserted that attempts to blame Dzhokhar’s now dead brother were “no defense.” Weinreb’s final statement was to urge the jury to “do what is right and return a verdict of guilty on all thirty counts.”
Weinreb’s rebuttal was powerful and I believe may have gained the prosecution some of the ground perhaps lost by Chakravarty during closing arguments.
I left the courtroom just after 3:30 pm prior to more jury instruction and, I am given to understand, two more sidebars.
Jury deliberations in this case have begun.
Image is from Voice of America and is government work.