Sister Helen Prejean spoke today for Jahar Tsarnaev

The defense and prosecution rested today and it looks like the jury is going to have to decide what sentence to impose without hearing directly from the defendant, Jahar Tsarnaev. Instead, they heard from him indirectly through the testimony of Sister Helen Prejean who met with him in March at the request of the defense team. Sister Helen is a Catholic nun best known for her opposition to the death penalty and her book, Dead Man Walking.

I walked in the room and looked at his face and I remembered thinking, Oh God, he’s so young . . . He said it emphatically. He said [refering to the Boston Marathon bombing victims], ‘No one deserved to suffer like they did.’ He kind of lowered his eyes. It was his voice. It had pain in it.

I’ve said many times that, if Jahar Tsarnaev wants to avoid the death penalty, he will have to own what he did, accept responsibility, express remorse and ask for mercy. He confessed his sin through Sister Helen.

Rather interesting to have a Muslim boy confessing his sin to a Catholic nun.

Whether her testimony on his behalf will carry the day remains to be seen.

I certainly hope it does.

All of this happened today without hearing the word allocution.

Closing arguments will begin Wednesday morning.

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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. Libertarian
    May 11, 2015 at 5:05 pm

    It may be hard for him to “confess” or show remorse because he is not responsible for the crime, although he knows who is.

  2. OldGold
    May 11, 2015 at 6:13 pm

    It was the defense’s best moment in the entire trial. It represented some damn fine lawyering.

    Yet, if you look closely at what Sister Helen Prejean testified to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev saying, “No one deserved to suffer like they did,” it was a very narrow expression of contrition. Was it enough?

  3. Mark
    May 11, 2015 at 6:47 pm

    I wonder if his defense team woulda/coulda done some more damn fine lawyering had they had more “wins” like this one with O’Toole.
    I agree about the statment. It is something anyone could say. Doesnt necessarily mean he is sorry he did it. But, it was such a rare expression of any kind of sorrow during this trial (from him) that maybe it will work with the jury. I believe if Jahar does not get the death penalty it is because the good Sister saved his life.

  4. cv1975
    May 11, 2015 at 7:17 pm

    I would like to see the transcript from today. Not only did she that, but she also said that he said this emphatically with pain in his voice and that she truly believes he is sorry for what he did. Her words will ring more loudly than any “expert”. With her experience, I believe she knows when someone is genuine. And her reputation for being able to determine sincerity will speak volumes. I believe that most of the jurors know who she is . . . Especially if any of them are even partially Catholic.

    Also, the defense has filed a motion to strike the aggravating factor of Martin Richard because no one testified to that as being an aggravating factor in the penalty phase. Perhaps the Richards get their voice heard? Thoughts?

  5. Carolyn D
    May 11, 2015 at 8:26 pm

    I would like to see the transcript too. I was following along on Twitter as it was happening, and it sounded pretty convincing at that point. I was very grateful that he said that – happy actually. Becki Norris, the teacher who still loves him, also seemed very happy he said what he said. People now are doubting that he had genuine remorse – Kevin Cullen, for one. I guess some victims didn’t buy her testimony either because I read that some were shaking their heads and rolling their eyes incredulously while she was on the stand. I believe the sister believes Jahar feels remorse, and would not have testified on his behalf if she didn’t. I hope that’s the message the jury got.

  6. Bluedot
    May 11, 2015 at 8:31 pm

    He didn’t do it? Oh shit who did?

  7. Carolyn D
    May 11, 2015 at 8:33 pm

    I read somewhere that the Sister reached out to the defense team. I wonder if that’s true. If so, she probably saw a real opportunity to take on the death penalty in a major way. I’m trying to guess what went on behind the scenes. The defense probably needed him to say something to the Sister to make her testimony credible and to reveal that he believed the Boston Marathon bombing victims WERE innocents who did not deserve their fate. Maybe they talked about the God of Catholicism and the God of Islam and how they think that god would look at killing innocent people to make a point.

  8. Carolyn D
    May 11, 2015 at 8:34 pm

    O’Toole seemed to be doing the prosecution’s bidding and making his decisions based on what the people in Boston would think about it.

  9. wiseowl
    May 11, 2015 at 11:22 pm

    A Muslim believes in one God, therefore a Muslim believes Catholic God is Islam God, unfortunately that sentiment is not reciprocated as most Christians will not accept that Allah is their God.

  10. wiseowl
    May 11, 2015 at 11:25 pm

    well the note on the boat did say the government is killing innocent people…

  11. Mark
    May 11, 2015 at 11:55 pm

    Um, I think that both religions believe that God is the one and only God of Abraham, the same God for both religions, regardless if he is called Allah, Jehovah, Yahweh. Muslims do not believe Christ was the son of God, but they do believe he was a prophet. I could be wrong about this…..

  12. wiseowl
    May 11, 2015 at 11:58 pm

    Have heard Christians argue this point “Islams Allah is not my God…” Jesus, prophet yes, son of God, no. correct.

  13. Mark
    May 12, 2015 at 12:07 am

    Liz Norden should be given a pass– she is having a very difficult time moving on and is full of hate. She told reporters the other day that she is praying to God that all 12 jurors vote death. Interesting that her two sons, Paul and JP Norden, each who lost a leg, are moving on nicely. I don’t think either one have been to court once. God could have appeared in that courtroom to profess Jahar’s remorse and Liz Norden would have rolled her eyes. The press loves her because she stirs it up.
    I believe the reactions and comments by Liz Norden and Kevin Cullen are indications of how superb Sister Prejean’s testimony was for Jahar.

  14. Mark
    May 12, 2015 at 12:11 am

    Well, those are probably the very good Christians (picture of tongue in cheek goes here) who want nothing to do with the horrible Muslims and therefore live in ignorance that they all worship the same God!

  15. knowlyn
    May 12, 2015 at 6:10 am

    “Was it enough?”
    Good question. Better than nothing, I imagine. I will say I was pleasantly surprised to hear that she had actually met with him and had something to testify directly about him. If she made it to the stand at all, I was thinking she was going to be general, a sort of death-row version of the ADX witnesses.
    I’m still wondering what happened to the other witness–the social-psychologist (is that right??) who apparently had more testimony about the family. Was it just not permitted by the judge or did the defense change their mind about presenting the evidence?

  16. furtive
    May 12, 2015 at 7:23 am

    You can feel empathy, but if you are innocent, you cannot feel guilt or remorse…unless of course, you are brainwashed.
    Sister’s quote was one of empathy, not remorse.
    Kevin Cullen needs a thesaurus, among other literary tools.

  17. furtive
    May 12, 2015 at 7:25 am

    That the twins avoid the courtroom (& reporter’s interviews) speaks volumes.

  18. furtive
    May 12, 2015 at 7:26 am

    You mean the COO, CEO’s & CFO’s ?

  19. furtive
    May 12, 2015 at 7:28 am

    The alphabet acronyms should help you come up with the answer to the Riddle…the same riddle wrapped in an enigma on 11-22-1963…

  20. Patriarch
    May 12, 2015 at 7:43 am

    This could be interpreted as remorse too. It is not. It is idealistically sympathetic:
    “In 2011, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev wrote an English assignment while attending UMass Dartmouth about the West Memphis Three, who many believe were wrongly accused.
    ‘In this case it would have been hard to protect or defend these young boys if the whole town exclaimed in happiness at the arrest. Also, to go against the authorities isn’t the easiest thing to do. Don’t get me wrong though, I am appalled at the situation but I think that the town was scared and desperate to blame someone. It’s because of stories like this and such occurrences that make a positive change in this world. I’m pretty sure there won’t be anymore similar tales like this. In any case, if they do, people won’t stand quiet, I hope. ‘ ”

    Jahar’s remark is the Essence of a mens rea (sarcasm is dripping from my index finger)

  21. Patriarch
    May 12, 2015 at 7:52 am

    What? The judge sustained the majority of her examination. The defense are intimidated moot court participants…intentional or not, they are ill prepared & INCOMPETENT, WHICH IS LIKELY INTENTIONAL.

    Even my cousin, VINNY WAS A BETTER FINESSER.

  22. Bluedot
    May 12, 2015 at 8:09 am

    Good question. It only requires one person to get him LWOP. But why does he not directly express some remorse. That he did not do so could work against him. I wonder if he has a death wish.

  23. Frederick Leatherman
    May 12, 2015 at 8:42 am

    Absurd and ridiculous claim.

  24. Frederick Leatherman
    May 12, 2015 at 8:45 am

    You are correct.

  25. Frederick Leatherman
    May 12, 2015 at 8:46 am

    So-called Christians who make that argument do not know what they are talking about. They are ignorant.

  26. Frederick Leatherman
    May 12, 2015 at 8:52 am

    Don’t know. Risky move, but you can only play the cards that you’re dealt and they did that very well.

  27. Frederick Leatherman
    May 12, 2015 at 8:59 am

    You need to read a transcript. His lawyer admitted that he did it at the beginning of the trial.

  28. Frederick Leatherman
    May 12, 2015 at 9:02 am

    You have no idea what you are talking about.

  29. knowlyn
    May 12, 2015 at 9:33 am

    Is it a settled matter that he would have been able to make a statement (w/o testifying)? I don’t know that he would have, but I’m wondering if we can say for sure at this point that he chose not to or whether it’s possible it was ruled out by the judge?

  30. Frederick Leatherman
    May 12, 2015 at 10:18 am

    We don’t know if counsel raised the issue or, if they did, whether the judge ruled on it.

    For various possible reasons, Jahar may not have wanted or been able to make a statement.

  31. OldGold
    May 12, 2015 at 10:28 am

    One of my biggest complaints concerning this entire proceeding is how much was done outside of the public purview. Call me old school, but I like my public trials to be just that – public.

  32. Carolyn D
    May 12, 2015 at 10:48 am

    Defense has filed a motion or some motions regarding how the prosecution can characterize their client during their closing argument. Defense asks judge to bar prosecutors from using 25 “improper” arguments for execution, including use of phrase “murderous dog.”


    “Hours after both sides rested in the trial, Tsarnaev’s lawyers filed a motion asking the judge to strike one of the aggravators cited by prosecutors in arguing for the death penalty.

    In their filing, the defense said prosecutors have not shown the impact of the boy’s death on his family.

    The victim impact factor centers on the prosecution’s contention Tsarnaev caused ‘injury, harm and loss’ to the three fatally injured bombing victims and their families.

    Tsarnaev’s lawyers said prosecutors ‘called no witnesses and offered no evidence’ to establish the factor as it applies to Martin and his family.

    ‘This means, at a minimum, that a jury cannot weight ‘victim impact’ as a factor on death’s side of the scales based solely on the jurors’ inevitably strong feelings of sympathy and grief for a young murder victim or for his family,’ Tsarnaev’s lawyers wrote.”

    This kind of seems cold – to me. I understand it, but …

  33. Frederick Leatherman
    May 12, 2015 at 11:02 am

    I agree 100%.

  34. cv1975
    May 12, 2015 at 11:08 am

    I see it a little differently. The Richards chose not to testify in the penalty phase. They are opposed to the death penalty for DT. With this motion, their grief cannot be used as a factor to kill him. Though they did not have the opportunity to express their opinion in regards to the death penalty in this case, the defense has essentially done it for them. Also, in the motion they essentially said the grief is surely inevitably and understandably present and the defense does not deny that, it just can’t be used legally as a factor for the death penalty. Legal eagles thoughts?

  35. Frederick Leatherman
    May 12, 2015 at 11:11 am

    Also, federal courts need to join us in the 21st century and allow cameras in the courtroom. Tweeting is a poor substitute. Not to say that the reporters didn’t do a good job. I think they did, but I want to see and hear with my own eyes and ears rather than read someone’s interpretation.

  36. Carolyn D
    May 12, 2015 at 11:27 am
  37. OldGold
    May 12, 2015 at 11:41 am

    ” I want to see and hear with my own eyes and ears rather than read someone’s interpretation.”
    I wonder if the jurors feel the same way about Dzhokhar’s statement? Of course, it helps that the “someone” was a person of Sister Helen Prejean’s stature.

  38. Frederick Leatherman
    May 12, 2015 at 12:47 pm

    I don’t know. Certainly helps that they only need one juror and the jurors will not be deliberating for the purpose of reaching a unanimous verdict. They will be making an individual choice.

  39. Frederick Leatherman
    May 12, 2015 at 12:55 pm

    That argument sounds like a reach to me. I believe the jury found his death to have been an aggravating factor in the guilt phase. Not sure.

  40. cv1975
    May 12, 2015 at 2:22 pm

    Obviously her testimony was considerably limited by the prosecution, but she definitely made her points as did Conrad! Bravo to both of them! I can see why the media has not, other than Cullen, tried to discredit her testimony. Between the two of them they made it clear to me that he feels remorse! I would believe the jury would see the same as they could see his face and expressions while she spoke.

  41. Patriarch
    May 12, 2015 at 3:11 pm

    I disagree.

  42. Patriarch
    May 12, 2015 at 3:22 pm

    Federal trials are controlled by the FBI with no cameras & limited courtroom seating
    State trials have cameras in the courtroom with a pool reporter for broadcasting.

    It has Always been so.

    There is a reason why Mueller & Holder took the reins out of the hands of
    Patrick…think outside the box.

  43. Patriarch
    May 12, 2015 at 3:27 pm

    You are NOT absurd or ridiculous. Your intuition has kicked in. Don’t let anyone intimidate you.

  44. Frederick Leatherman
    May 12, 2015 at 6:01 pm

    Before you decide where to think, you should consider thinking. You obviously have no idea what you’re talking about.

  45. Patriarch
    May 12, 2015 at 6:41 pm

    I disagree.

  46. knowlyn
    May 13, 2015 at 6:34 am

    I have a bad feeling about this. With all the dp charges, is there hope?

  47. OldGold
    May 13, 2015 at 9:55 am

    Mike Hayes Tweet: O’Toole casually dropped as an aside that Tsarnaev will speak at sentencing hearing.

  48. Frederick Leatherman
    May 14, 2015 at 8:26 am

    There’s always hope, until the light at the end of the tunnel materializes into a train and flattens you.

    This is a tough case. Despite substantial mitigation, I fear the worst.

  49. knowlyn
    May 14, 2015 at 8:49 am

    Yes. I was afraid ‘there’s always hope’ was the best we could do. 🙂