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Tsarnaev defense team close to finishing its penalty phase case

The defense is close to finishing its penalty phase defense in the Boston Marathon bombing trial. The Boston Herald is reporting,

The defense in the Boston Marathon bombing trial has called an expert in adolescent brain development to the stand in the hope of convincing jurors that Dzhkohar Tsarnaev’s (joh-HAHR’ tsahr-NEYE’-ehvz) young age is a mitigating factor in the attacks.

Dr. Jay Giedd said Wednesday that the part of the brain associated with impulse control and long-range planning can develop until 25 to 30. Tsarnaev was 19 when he and his 26-year-old brother planted twin bombs near the finish line of the 2013 marathon, killing three people and injuring more than 260.

Giedd says, “Teens are more likely to choose the smaller, sooner reward, less worried about longer-term consequences.”

Because he acknowledged on cross that children younger than Tsarnaev was at the time of the bombing can understand that actions have consequences, I do not believe his testimony had much of an effect on the jury.

The jury also heard evidence that Tsarnaev’s father, Anzor, was psychotic and unable to work in April, 2012. He and his wife divorced that month and he returned to Russia. That left Tamerlan in charge. He and his mother, Zubeidat, turned to radical jihadism around that time and she started wearing the hijab. This must have been a disorienting time for Jahar.

Jennifer Callison, a transition specialist with the Winchester Public Schools testified that Jahar voluntarily joined the Best Budies Club at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School during the 2010-2011 school year. The purpose of the club is to foster social skills and friendships between special needs children and regular students who attend the school. She said he was very involved in the club and contributed greatly to the success of the program. This was a noncredit and purely voluntary activity and he received no rewards for his work.

I think his participation in this club demonstrates that he cared about people with special needs and in a weird sort of way his participation in the bombing  was similarly motivated, according to the note he left in the boat. He wanted to  do something to help the millions of dead, injured and displaced Muslims in the Middle East. Killing and injuring innocent people near the Finish Line of the Boston was reprehensible and certainly did not advance his goal. The jury will have to decide whether his noble and selfless acts on behalf of special needs students at Cambridge Rindge and Latin is sufficient to merit an LWOP sentence. Certainly there is no shortage of former teachers, friends and family who love him despite the horrific acts he committed.

The final witness today was Mark Bezy, a correctional consultant who worked for the Bureau of Prisons from 1976 to 2006. He worked at Marion when it was the only federal supermax prison. He testified about conditions of confinement at ADX Florence, the current federal supermax prison. Lifetime confinement there has been described as a living hell that some jurors may regard as more severe than execution.




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Frederick Leatherman

Frederick Leatherman

I am a former law professor and felony criminal defense lawyer who practiced in state and federal courts for 30 years specializing in death penalty cases, forensics, and drug cases.

I taught criminal law, criminal procedure, law and forensics, and trial advocacy for three years after retiring from my law practice.

I also co-founded Innocence Project Northwest (IPNW) at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle and recruited 40 lawyers who agreed to work pro bono, assisted by law students, representing 17 innocent men and women wrongfully convicted of sexually abusing their children in the notorious Wenatchee Sex Ring witch-hunt prosecutions during the mid 90s. All 17 were freed from imprisonment.


  1. Carolyn D
    May 9, 2015 at 10:08 am


  2. knowlyn
    May 9, 2015 at 2:57 pm

    It’s difficult to know what exactly the prosecutors mean by “defiant statements.” That doesn’t imply using his silence against him, but it does sound like maybe using his attitude against him, unless they are simply saying that any statements he made supporting what he and his brother did or the idea of jihad constitute “defiant.” Whatever they were they were pre-Miranda statements of someone recovering from serious injuries.The defense’s position was that the statements weren’t voluntary, chiefly because they say he was refused multiple requests for an attorney on the basis that he needed to answer questions first.