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Jury Gets Boston Bombing Case, Will Decide Tsarnaev's Fate

The jury considering the fate of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will begin deliberations Tuesday.
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/ Source: NBC News

After weeks of graphic testimony on one of the worst terror attacks on American soil, the case against alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will go to a jury Tuesday for a decision that is widely expected to result in a conviction and trigger a second phase to determine whether he should be executed.

The jury will begin deliberations Tuesday morning after hearing closing arguments Monday from lawyers on both sides: prosecutors who brought an overwhelming amount of evidence against Tsarnaev and defense lawyers who don’t dispute most of it but argue he was manipulated by his older brother.

Monday's arguments began with Assistant U.S. Attorney Aloke Chakravarty accusing Tsarnaev of bringing twisted jihadist beliefs to the feet of innocent Americans, blowing bodies apart at the race's finish line, coolly walking away, then arming himself to the teeth for a showdown with authorities alongside his co-conspirator older brother.

Chakravarty said Tsarnaev, at the time a 19-year-old college student whose family had fled the war-torn Russian Caucasus, made his final statement in the form of an Islamist, anti-American screed written on a boat where he was found hiding four days after twin blasts rocked the finish line of the April 15, 2013 race.

"He did what terrorists do after they commit terrorist acts. He wanted to tell the world why he did what he did. He wanted to take credit," Chakravarty said.

Chakravarty's closing arguments were followed by those from Tsarnaev's defense lawyers, who have admitted that he took part in the bombings, in which three people died and 260 were hurt, and the killing of MIT police officer Sean Collier. Their goal is to save Tsarnaev's now 21, from execution, which, in the case of a conviction, would be considered in the trial's second phase.

Tsarnaev faces 30 criminal counts, 17 of which could bring the death penalty.

His lawyers sought to portray him as a puppet of his older brother, Tamerlan, who they say masterminded the attack and died during a shootout with police.

Judy Clarke, the lead defense lawyer, said Monday she didn’t dispute most of the government’s case. The key exception, she said, was why he took part.

The government’s portrayal of Tsarnaev as "self radicalized” was false, she said.

"Dzhokhar Tsarnaev followed his brother Tamerlan down Boylston Street and put down his backpack knowing it would explode," Clarke said.

Clarke argued that the evidence, including receipts, fingerprints and witnesses’ testimony, showed that Tamerlan bought and assembled the bomb parts, killed Collier, committed the armed carjacking and shot at police in Watertown. She acknowledged Dzhokhar Tsarnaev threw bombs at police before trying to escape, running over his brother in the process.

"Dzhokhar Tsarnaev stands ready by your verdict to be held accountable for his actions," Clarke said.

Still, she accused prosecutors of cherry-picking Tsarnaev’s Twitter posts and of using certain images to paint him as a jihadist when most of the time he was “a teenager doing teenage things.” The screed in the boat wasn’t a message to the world, but “a 19-year-old’s attempt to describe why they did what they did.” He knew it wasn’t right to take innocents’ lives, but acted on “a twisted belief what he did would make things right,” Clarke said.

"Now what does any of this matter when we know Dzhokhar walked down Boylston Street with a bomb on his back and placed it down? It matters because you're entitled to know the full picture."

She added, "We don't deny that Dzhokhar fully participated in the events. But without Tamerlan it wouldn't have happened."

Chakravarty argued Monday that Tsarnaev was an equal partner with his brother. A key difference was that while Tamerlan Tsarnaev was open with his radical beliefs, Dzhokhar "led a double life," as a seemingly normal teenager.

Tsarnaev "brought terrorism to backyards and Main Street," Chakravarty said, adding that the defendant "wanted to make a point, he wanted to terrorize his country, he wanted to punish America for what it did to his people."

The prosecutor pointed out that the bombings targeted an international sporting event held on a local holiday celebrating the first battles of the Revolutionary War.

“He chose a day when the eyes of the world would be on Boston," Chakravarty said of Tsarnaev. "He and his brother targeted those civilians — men, women and children. He wanted to punish America for what it was doing to his people. He killed two young women. He killed a little boy.”

Tapping into a trove of video and photographs of the bombing and its aftermath, Chakravarty reintroduced the jury to some of the attack’s most troubling images, and at one point accompanied them with jihadi chants found on the brothers’ electronic devices. He described the horrific injuries to each of the dead victims. “This is the cold reality of what his crimes left behind,” Chakravarty said.

The trial began March 4, with the government outlining its case against Tsarnaev. The process took four weeks, covering Tsarnaev's alleged radicalization the months and years before the bombing, the attack itself, the killing of Collier three days later, the carjacking of a Mercedes SUV hours later, the shootout in Watertown, Massachusetts and, finally, Tsarnaev found hiding in a boat parked behind a nearby home. Witnesses’ verbal testimony was often accompanied by photos and video footage, some of it graphic.

The jury heard from the father of 8-year-old Richard Martin, the youngest to die, and from friends and rescue workers who tended to Krystle Campbell, 29, and Lingzi Lu, 23, the blasts’ two other fatalities. Other victims recalled losing limbs. Through it all, Tsarnaev remained stoic and still.

The defense, by comparison, called just four witnesses, all evidence technicians, in an attempt to show that Tsarnaev involvement in the attack’s preparation was secondary to that of his brother’s.

Clarke asked the jury Monday to "keep your minds open" in the trial's penalty phase. "We know in the face of the heartbreak you've listened to and felt over the past month that it is a lot to ask."

The jury’s 12 members — seven women and five men — and six alternates were chosen in a two-month selection process that included multiple requests by defense lawyers to move the trial out of Boston, where they said Tsarnaev couldn't get a fair shot in a city where nearly everyone was impacted by the bombing or its aftermath.