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Will Boston Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Break His Silence at Sentencing?

by Tracy Connor /  / Updated 

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The outcome of Wednesday's sentencing hearing is not in doubt: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will be formally condemned to die for his role in the Boston Marathon bombings.

But hours ahead of the hearing, which will feature up to 20 victims of the 2013 attack once again baring their anguish, one question remains unanswered: Will he break his silence?

Defense lawyers have not indicated whether Tsarnaev, 21, plans to accept the opportunity to address the court before the death sentence is officially imposed.

During the trial, the public only heard from Tsarnaev indirectly.

Sister Helen Prejean, a death penalty opponent, told the jury that she met with Tsarnaev five times and believed he was genuinely sorry for the carnage — three dead and more than 200 injured.

"No one deserves to suffer like they did," she quoted him as saying.

Prosecutors, on the other hand, played video they said suggested a lack of remorse; it showed him giving the middle finger to a security camera in a holding cell.

Image: Video recorded in a jail cell in 2013 a few months after the bombing shows Dzhokhar Tsarnaev flashing his middle finger to the camera.
Video recorded in a jail cell in 2013 a few months after the bombing shows Dzhokhar Tsarnaev flashing his middle finger to the camera.

Legal experts say there is little upside to Tsarnaev making a statement.

"I would be very surprised if he speaks," said Stephen Jones, who represented Timothy McVeigh, who was sentenced to death and later executed for the Oklahoma City bombing.

"Generally, I don't advise clients to make a statement unless they are articulate and it sounds like them and doesn't sound like it was written by lawyers."

McVeigh didn't take Jones' advice. When the judge asked if he had anything to say, he referenced a 1928 Supreme Court case over government wiretapping and privacy rights.

"If the court please, I wish to use the words of Justice Brandeis dissenting in Olmstead to speak for me," he said. "He wrote, 'Our Government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example.' That's all I have."

"Whatever would be said, I think, would be viewed as too little, too late."

Other convicted terrorists have used their time for diatribes.

"God curse America. And God save Osama bin Laden. You will never get him," Zacarias Moussaoui said when he was sentenced to life in prison in 2006 for conspiracy as part of the 9/11 attacks.

Abu Hamza, the London preacher sentenced to life earlier this year for training Al Qaeda terrorists, proclaimed his innocence and complained about the conditions he would face in prison.

"My concern is to make sure it is not a back door for crucifixion, not a back door for torture," said Hamza, who had one eye, hooks for hands, and diabetes. "Security issues should not be used to confiscate human rights issues."

Related: Bombing Survivors Call Death Verdict 'Justice'

David Hoose, a Massachusetts defense lawyer, told the Associated Press that Tsarnaev should keep his mouth shut.

“I don’t think there’s anything to be gained by it at this point. Whatever would be said, I think, would be viewed as too little, too late,” Hoose said.

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