Editor’s Note: The following is a recounting of how the sentencing of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev unfolded last week in a federal court in Boston.
Formal sentencing in the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, now convicted on some thirty counts in relation to the 2013 bombing of the Boston Marathon, took place on Wednesday, June 24, at the John Joseph Moakley Federal Courthouse in Boston, MA. Despite the sentence being well known prior to this hearing, the proceedings nonetheless provided some surprises for observers.
Court convened a few minutes late at 9.45 am. with William Weinreb, Aloke Chakravarty, Steve Mellin and Nadine Pelligrini representing the government. David Bruck, William Fick, Timothy Watkins, Judy Clarke and Miriam Conrad were present for the defense. Prior to this the defense and prosecution teams could be observed in the courtroom. The prosecution, for the most part, remained at their table and were shortly joined by Judy Clarke for the defense, whereupon she spoke at length with members of the prosecution. Clarke’s demeanor appeared upbeat as she smiled frequently throughout her conversation with the prosecution.
While Clarke conversed with the prosecution, Miriam Conrad, also for the defense, appeared to await the arrival of her client, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, in the courtroom. Upon Tsarnaev’s entrance Conrad greeted him and both client and attorney engaged in dialogue with their chairs inclined towards each other and often leaning close. Although many had predicted that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev would not speak at his sentencing hearing due to the upcoming appeals process, I personally became convinced, at this point, that he would in fact speak. My perception was that Conrad, her hand frequently at her client’s back, was preparing him for something .
Judy Clarke made her way back to the defense table just a couple of minutes prior to Judge O’Toole’s entrance. Clarke took her seat, to the left of her client before greeting him.Tsarnaev turned slowly and briefly from his conversation with Miriam Conrad, who sat at his right, and spoke no more than a couple of words to Clarke before returning his attention to Conrad. (Despite one incidence when whatever Clarke said to her client appeared to amuse, my overall impression was that this attorney/client relationship had cooled somewhat since the trial.) Judge O’Toole began by speaking briefly on his review of sentencing guidelines and pre-sentencing reports.
Victim Impact Statements:
It was mentioned that some had provided impact statements in writing, but those who spoke were:
Patricia & Bill Campbell: (Parents of Krystle Campbell who died from her injuries at the first bomb site.)
Karen McWaters: (Friend of Kryslte Campbell and who lost a leg as a result of the bombing.)
Jennifer Rogers: (Sister of Officer Sean Collier who was slain on the night of 04/18/13.)
Bill and Denise Richard: (Who we are told lost their youngest son, Martin, at the site of the second bomb, and whom, along with their daughter, Jane, sustained injuries as a result of the bombing.)
Richard Donahue. (A Transit Police Sergeant who came close to losing his life after being shot by “friendly fire” at the Watertown shoot-out on the night of 04/18/13.)
Michael Chase. (A spectator at the 2013 marathon who states he provided aid to the Richard family and who suffered ruptured eardrums and also a concussion.)
Joseph Craven. (Suffered injuries as a result of the bombing.)
Stephanie Benz. (Suffered shrapnel wounds as a result of the bombing.)
Henry Bogard. (A passer-by who sustained PCS and suffers from PTSD.)
Elizabeth Bourgault. (A runner who was injured.)
Carol Downing. (The mother of Nicole Gross and Erika Brannock who each lost a leg as a result of the bombings.)
Jeanne-Marie Parker. (Attended the 2013 marathon with her daughters and who said she suffers from tinnitis and anxiety as a result.)
Scott Weisberg. (A doctor who ran in the 2013 marathon and who sustained traumatic brain injury and stated that he now suffers from hearing loss and anxiety.)
Megan Zipin. (Marathon attendee who said she now suffers from PTSD.)
Johanna Hantel. (A runner who sustained injuries.)
Jennifer Joyce Maybury. (The aunt of Jeff Bauman who lost both legs as a result of the bombings.)
Jennifer Kauffman. (Suffered injuries and complained of financial hardship in regard to medical bills.)
Annette Emerson. ( Attended the marathon and said she still suffers from hearing loss.)
Ed Fucarile. (Father of Marc Fucarile who lost one leg as a result of the bombings and, his father said, may still lose his remaining leg. )
Liz Norden. (Whose two sons, Paul and J.P., each lost a leg as a result of the bombings.)
Heather Abbott. (Who was blown into “The Forum” restaurant when the second bomb exploded and lost her left leg as a result of the explosion.)
Rebekah Gregory. (Who lost her left leg as a result of the bombings.)
Many of the impact statements had, as was to be expected, much impact, and particularly in an emotional context. As these people spoke of loved ones they had lost, their own personal tragedies, and in some cases the financial hardship they now face due to medical expenses, it would not have been possible to remain unmoved. While the grace of some was humbling, the understandable bitterness of others was palpable. The majority thanked the judge and jury although, to the best of my recollection, only Patricia Campbell expressed pleasure in the outcome of this trial.
Some did not address Tsarnaev directly, but those who did spoke from many perspectives. Patricia Campbell admonished him that he did not “get help for his brother” and ended by telling him “I do not know what to say to you.” Jennifer Rogers told Tsarnaev that he “spit in the face of the American dream”, but also criticized the media severely and at length for intruding upon the Collier family in their initial grief and for continuing to “stalk” them. In contrast, Jeanne-Maria Parker asked him if he was “remorseful”, whilst Johanna Hantel said, “I’m sorry for you, Mr. Tsarnaev”, and went on to add that she hoped Dzhokhar would be given the opportunity to “do something good with his life.” Ed Fucarile remarked to Tsarnaev that, “the first time I saw you in this courtroom you were smirking at all of us” and added, “I don’t see you smirking today.” Rebekah Gregory informed Dzhokhar that she refused to consider herself a victim of either himself or his brother.
Liz Norden spoke of her sons and what I would define as their truly admirable determination to move on with their lives. It seems clear that Paul and J.P.Norden will not allow the tragedy which befell them to define their future. Joseph Craven spoke of his attempt to “relate” to the defendant throughout the trial. Henry Borgard, during his emotional testimony, told the court that he forgave Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Prior to the lunch break William Weinreb spoke for the prosecution and reaffirmed the government’s assertion that Tsarnaev both planned and carried out “one of the most heinous acts of terorism on American soil”, and that he did so in order to “prove a political point.” Weinreb then requested of the court that Tsarnaev’s assets be forfeited.
After lunch , while Miriam Conrad remained visibly solicitous of her client’s ease and David Bruck appeared preoccupied, Judy Clarke prepared to address the court. Clarke provided the first official indication that a plea deal may have been sought by the defense prior to trial, as was rumored in the media, (and the first surprise of the day), when she informed the court that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev himself had given the government the opportunity to avoid a trial, first in October 2013 and again in January 2014. (Although this was denied by USDA Carmen Ortiz, I personally suspect Ortiz’s denial may have been to avoid possible criticism regarding taxpayer’s money spent on a trial that in the eyes of some may not have been necessary, and also to disguise the government’s relentless pursuit of the death penalty in this case.) Clarke’s revelation was followed by a brief discussion between O’Toole, Clarke and Weinreb, which as I understood it, was mostly in reference to the possibility of including the funds contained in Tsarnaev’s commissary account in the government’s seizure of his assets.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Speaks:
The second surprise of the day, (for some), came when Judy Clarke announced that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev would address the court. As silence descended upon the court, Tsarnaev, having been seemingly encouraged by Miriam Conrad, rose to his feet and began speaking, quietly but audibly, with an accent which was barely detectable but with some obvious difficulty in enunciating at times. He appeared a little nervous as he stood, shifting slightly as he spoke, with his hands clasped in front of him, but maintained his composure. Although he did not read from notes I observed that he held what appeared to be a small piece of paper in one hand. (Perhaps a post-it note?) Dzhokhar Tsarnaev said:
“Thank you, your Honor, for giving me an opportunity to speak. I would like to begin in the name of Allah, the exalted and glorious, the most gracious, the most merciful, “Allah” among the most beautiful names. Any act that does not begin in the name of God is separate from goodness.
This is the blessed month of Ramadan, and it is the month of mercy from Allah to his creation, a month to ask forgiveness of Allah and of his creation, a month to express gratitude to Allah and to his creation. It’s the month of reconciliation, a month of patience, a month during which hearts change. Indeed, a month of many blessings.
The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said if you have not thanked the people, you have not thanked God. So I would like to first thank my attorneys, those who sit at this table, the table behind me, and many more behind the scenes. They have done much good for me, for my family. They made my life the last two years very easy. I cherish their company. They are lovely companions and I thank you.
I would like to thank those who took time out of their daily lives to come and testify on my behalf despite the pressure. I thank the jury for their service and the court. The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said that if you do not, if you are not merciful to Allah’s creation, Allah will not be merciful to you, so I would like to apologize to the victims and to the survivors.
Immediately after the bombing, which I am guilty of… If there’s any lingering doubt about that, let there be no more.I did do it, along with my brother…I learned of some of the victims. I learned their names, their faces, their age. Throughout this trial more victims were given names. More of those victims were given faces and they had burdened souls.
Now all those who got up on that witness stand,that podium, and related to us…to me…and I was listening…the suffering that was and the hardship that still is, with strength, with patience and with dignity, Allah says in the Qur’an, that no soul is burdened with more than it can bear, but you told us how unbearable it was and how horrendous it was, this thing I put you through…I know that you kept that much. I know there is not enough time in the day for you to relate to us everything…I also wish that far more people had a chance to get up there, but I took them from you. Now I am sorry for the lives I have taken, for the suffering I have caused you, and for the damage I have done. Irreparable damage.
I am a Muslim. My religion is Islam. The God I worship, beside whom there is no other God, is Allah, and I prayed for Allah to bestow his mercy upon the deceased, those affected in the bombing and their families. Allah says in the Qur’an that with every hardship there is relief. I pray for your relief, for your healing, for your well being and for your strength.
I ask Allah to have mercy upon me and my brother and my family. I ask Allah to bestow his mercy upon those present here today and Allah knows best those deserving his mercy and I ask Allah to have mercy upon the ummah of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. Amin. Praise be to Allah the Lord of the Worlds. Thank you.”
Judge O’Toole then thanked the jurors and spoke of the courage of victims, survivors and first responders. He also gave mention to Dun Meng, who was allegedly car-jacked by the Tsarnaev brothers, and spoke of a “courageous escape.” The judge then addressed Tsarnaev, telling him that no one would remember that his teachers liked him,his past athletic abilities, his humor, or indeed any of the desirable traits his former friends and teachers had spoken of, but that he would be remembered for “murdering and maiming innocent people.” Tsarnaev then stood, along with his attorneys, as the charges were then read and the sentence on each was pronounced. (Although the sentences varied from lengthy terms of imprisonment, to LWOP, to the death penalty, in light of the latter the other seems irrelevant.) The forfeiture of Tsarnaev’s assets was approved by the judge. O’Toole then advised Tsarnaev of his rights to appeal and of the terms of custody whilst appeals are in progress. During this time he will be in the custody of the USAG, and after which, should appeals be unsuccessful, he will be transferred to the custody of the US Marshals. Tsarnaev was then escorted out of the courtroom by US Marshalls and the hearing was concluded at 2.15 pm.
So what of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s words for the court? A confession, strategic maneuver or a little of each? Did Tsarnaev pen those words himself or should his attorneys take credit? Response from the victims’ families and survivors was, as might be expected, mixed.