Death Penalty Trial Begins for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

The Government gave its opening statement today in the death penalty trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Live updates are here. At the end of her opening, the prosecutor giving the opening displayed a screengrab of a security camera video of Tsarnaev in his cell raising his middle finger to the camera. It hasn't been admitted into evidence, so there isn't a copy, but the media reports it was taken a year ago and shows his face was scarred and he was very angry.

The defense deferred their opening until the start of their case. Several witnesses testified as to their injuries in graphic detail. Victim impact testimony in these cases is always horrific. Over defense objection, the judge admitted a video of one victim on the ground, with constant blood curdling screams. [More...]

The jury was instructed not to be swayed by emotion. They were told the sentence should not be an “emotional response” or based on what they believe victims wanted. They were also told that if just one of them refuses to vote for the death penalty, Jahar will serve life in prison without parole.

Hopefully the defense jury selection expert did a good job. He or she just needs to have gotten one pick right as to who would vote against death and stick to it.

The prosecutor today told the jury Jahar "He simply is callous and indifferent to human life...it's his character that makes the death penalty appropriate and just." That of course will be refuted by the defense witnesses.

The photo was designed for shock value. I doubt it will have any impact by the time the jury deliberates. Especially given the prosecutor's interpretation: "“He is unrepentant, uncaring and untouched by the harm and sorrow that he created,” Pellegrini said."

I think most people will recognize, even without testimony about it, that whatever caused him to raise his finger had more to do with the conditions of his confinement at that moment, and was directed at guards, not the bombing victims. Maybe he didn't like his lunch. Had it been taken while he was walking away from the bomb site, she might have an argument. Also the anger in his face belies her point he is "uncaring." He obviously cared very much about something at that moment, even if it was just himself.

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    The death penalty is not justice. (5.00 / 3) (#12)
    by Chuck0 on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 09:07:19 AM EST
    It is revenge. Call a spade a spade.

    My son and his wife were there. (5.00 / 2) (#16)
    by itscookin on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 09:21:29 AM EST
    They weren't hurt, but they witnessed the mayhem. They would prefer LWOP, preferably after we blow his legs off with a bomb. I think I can understand why revenge would be part of the mix for someone personally connected. They, of course, don't expect that to happen. It's just a fantasy, and a way of coping with their own horror. As long as he is never free, they are OK with either punishment. LWOP has to mean that.

    The death penalty (5.00 / 2) (#23)
    by Lora on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 11:03:16 AM EST
    ...does not allow for the possibility of redemption.  No possibility of error. No possibility of change, either for the condemned, or for the rest of us.  It means giving up on hope, forgiveness, and compassion, values that many if not most who profess to be civilized claim we have.

    As Gandalf said in LOTR, "Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment." -- J.R.R. Tolkien

    Tsarnayev Doesn't Deserve Any Hope or Forgiveness (1.00 / 1) (#35)
    by branford on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 04:25:50 PM EST
    Why, exactly, do we need to permit the possibility of redemption for all crimes, no matter how heinous?  You and others may wish to forgive all perpetrators, or offer them all hope for release or salvation, but the voters in our democratic republic appear to disagree, particularly in matters as grave as those for which Tsarnayev has been convicted.  

    Moreover, your comments go well beyond capital punishment, and appear to object to sentences of LWOP, or possibly other very long period of incarceration.  If that is correct, at least in the USA, I doubt you would disagree that such a perspective would be an extreme minority viewpoint.

    As to you partial Gandalf quote, while amusing, I do not consider fictional characters particularly persuasive in matters of constitutional jurisprudence or real matters of life and death.

    In any event, to the extent it matters, Tsarnayev's life is now over, and his remaining days will be a well-earned and deserved misery. He's now only in his early 20's.  Even if given a death sentence, he will spend decades alone in a small box. Now reviled, he will soon be forgotten to waste away into oblivion.  All a lethal injection will likely accomplish many years from now would be to give him a blessed and merciful release to the suffering that resulted from his own evil choices.    


    What gives YOU the right (5.00 / 3) (#39)
    by sj on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 04:54:07 PM EST
    to speak for an entire society.
    Tsarnayev Doesn't Deserve Any Hope or Forgiveness (none / 0) (#35)
    by branford on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 03:25:50 PM MDT

    You don't deserve to be taken seriously. Does that mean we shouldn't do it?

    If you are going to quote Gandalf (none / 0) (#27)
    by CaptHowdy on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 11:36:21 AM EST
    Lets have the whole thing

    "It's a pity Bilbo didn't kill him when he had the chance."

    "Pity? It was pity that stayed Bilbo's hand. Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill before this is over. The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many."

    "I wish The Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had ever happened."

    "So do all who live to face such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."

    I liked reading the extended quote (5.00 / 1) (#32)
    by sj on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 03:19:23 PM EST
    But I don't see that it changes the meaning much. Only the context.

    It doesn't (none / 0) (#36)
    by CaptHowdy on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 04:36:42 PM EST
    but context matters

    Finger picture take 07/2013 (none / 0) (#1)
    by TycheSD on Tue Apr 21, 2015 at 09:00:25 PM EST
    Yes, I'm sure there was a lot to be upset about at that moment in time.  Supposedly, there were audible gasps in the courtroom when the picture was displayed.  Maybe it was so shocking because he was showing some emotion in that photo, which contrasts sharply with his courtroom demeanor of detachment.

    Is Judy Clarke telling him not to look at these victims?  Does she tell him not to show emotion and look straight ahead?  It is bizarre.  And I think his courtroom behavior alone is pissing off reporters and the jury.

    I trust the jury to do what needs to be (5.00 / 4) (#4)
    by Militarytracy on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 08:34:57 AM EST
    Done.  I never thought I would post anything on the subject, and if this offends any of his victims I want them to know that is not my intent.  I do find myself hoping that they choose life and not death.  When I was a punk bratty kid I too could skirt accountability.  I don't think he should be permitted to do that.  Desiring life in prison is me not enabling that.

    If they kill him, he gets to go right into victim stance emotionally until the final day, and it won't restore a limb or bring back any of the dead.  And once he's dead he feels nothing and dies a martyrs death, skirting dark hours of the soul to acknowledged accountability all the way.  If there is ever a chance he could apologize to one single person, I choose growing that, not martyrs.  That is all that is left now, what is enabled from here.


    you're not the only one (none / 0) (#10)
    by CST on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 09:00:13 AM EST
    And it's certainly not offensive to the victims.

    A lot of them are extremely torn on the subject as well.


    I really think it could go either way (none / 0) (#11)
    by CaptHowdy on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 09:05:48 AM EST
    using myself as an example.  I am against the death penalty and if I was on the jury I would vote accordingly.  
    That said, if there happened to be 11 votes against me I can imagine myself being convinced that if there is going to be a death penalty, if not now when.

    In truth he about as unsympathetic a person as I ever remember.  IMO.


    Adding (none / 0) (#13)
    by CaptHowdy on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 09:15:37 AM EST
    i would have said if asked that I was against the death penalty.  Supposedly all those people on the jury said they are open to the possibility.  Unless one or more lied, see above.

    I think it's a real mess (none / 0) (#15)
    by CST on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 09:17:24 AM EST
    When some of the most prominent victims have come out very publicly against the death penalty prior to the trial.  Link

    "If Bill or Denise Richard do not speak in court, some defense lawyers said, it could send a message to the jury, given the family's prominence as symbols of the pain caused by the Tsarnaev brothers and of Boston's resilience after the bombing.

    "The government may well be put in a difficult position here," said David Hoose, a defense attorney who specializes in federal death penalty cases. "I think if they didn't call them -- one of them -- the jury would be wondering: why not?""

    He's completely unsympathetic.  And the vast majority of the city, and many of the people who were hurt the most by him do not want the death penalty.  That should matter.


    Should it? (5.00 / 1) (#17)
    by CaptHowdy on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 09:26:48 AM EST
    im not sure.  Should it matter if they did want the death penalty?  I think we would both say no.

    what is the death penalty about? (5.00 / 2) (#18)
    by CST on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 09:38:01 AM EST
    It's certainly not about rehabilitation.  It's not about keeping society safe - LWOP does the same thing.  It might be seen as a "deterrent" - but the stats on that go out the window, and given the martyr nature of this type of thing where they expect to die at the very least even if they don't really want to - that doesn't seem much of a deterrent.

    So really it is about retribution (justice?).  Which begs the question - retribution (or justice) for whom?

    I do not think the justice system should be about retribution at all.  Hence my opposition to the death penalty.  But in a system that is about that - than who should have a say if not the victims?


    You don't need to convince me (none / 0) (#20)
    by CaptHowdy on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 09:42:32 AM EST
    Just callin um as I see um.  
    And the victims do have a say.  That's what has been happening.  
    I simply pose the question, if it matters when victims do not want the death penalty should it also matter when they do.
    Which I think it's safe to say is more common.

    It is society that should decide (none / 0) (#25)
    by TycheSD on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 11:17:17 AM EST
    What kind of a country we are, how we take care of the less fortunate and how we punish people who commit crimes and evil acts.  It is the people, through their government that should decide how humane we want to be, what punishment is meant to accomplish.  That is why if you're opposed to the death penalty you should support your state repealing it.  The count is at 18 now.  We have a long way to go.  The momentum currently is against death.  Fewer states are carrying it out even if it is legal.

    CST... (none / 0) (#30)
    by ScottW714 on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 01:38:54 PM EST
    ...I strongly agree with your last two statements, except I don't buy the martyr bit.  

    To think that somewhere people who didn't know him are honoring Tamerlan for what he did, is a stretch.  He actually died because Dzhokhar drove over him in a car.

    I can't imagine the guy who who killed his brother, and then around a decade later gets executed by the state, will reach martyrdom status.  Even if he does, he would be like the guy who barely made it, arguably shouldn't even be one because he killed a fellow terrorist, his own brother.

    I don't think they should kill him, but I also don't think the martyr argument should be the reason why.  It would basically legitimize their beliefs, that martyrdom for bad deeds is something of value.  What they believe/want should not matter at any point in the punishment portion of the trial.

    I think each family's wishes should be public because I get the feeling that most want LWOP and the DA is using the unknown to advance her career and passing it off as the wished of the victims.  But that is a two way door, and if they all want death, then death they should seek until the law is gone.


    I also don't think (none / 0) (#31)
    by CST on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 02:29:09 PM EST
    he means much to anyone anywhere outside of his family and the people affected by the bombing.  But I don't see the death penalty as any kind of a deterrent for a future case like this - as the expectation is death to some extent because of those beliefs.

    The truth is, there are differing opinions by the victims with regard to LWOP and the Death Penalty, in a case with this many victims, that's just a matter of statistics.  But I find it troubling that the jury will (presumably) only hear one side of the story, especially considering that the prosecution will (presumably) lean heavily on victim testimony for this part of the trial as well.  So what the victim wants matters, but only if it's what the DA wants as well.


    Also (none / 0) (#21)
    by CST on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 09:44:39 AM EST
    I think on a more practical level - it may matter.

    The prosecution will presumably be using victim testimony to make their case.


    A couple of thoughts on that. (5.00 / 1) (#22)
    by Reconstructionist on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 10:00:39 AM EST
      First, if the jurors are being faithful to their oaths they will not be aware of the Richard's out of court statements. Obviously, there is no guarantee all of them have shielded themselves from the coverage but it is far from certain the jurors have extrinsic knowledge of their position.

      Second, assuming no such knowledge it's very difficult to guess what a juror or jurors might think if no family member is called during the penalty phase. Might one or more surmise that the government did not call a family member because of opposition to the death penalty? Yes, but they might not as well, assuming it was a mere tactical decision or done to relieve the burden of further emotionally wrenching testimony.

      Even assuming knowledge, that would still require that the knowledge be highly influential to a juror's decision-making. It's certainly possible but not a sure thing by any stretch.

      Finally, the defense can call one or both of them. That would be a highly risky maneuver and is probably unlikely. I'd be scared to death to do it because regardless of their prior statements, one can never be certain how they would react on the stand, especially if not eager to testify and they feel they are being manipulated. The thing is if the neither side calls them and the defense were to comment on their absence during closing statements, it would not be permitted to speculate as to why the government did not call them or mention the out of court statements.


    You're not really against death penalty (none / 0) (#24)
    by TycheSD on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 11:10:23 AM EST
    Not sure I understand people who say they are opposed to the government executing people in our behalf reconsider their position based on how the perpetrator acts or the nature of the crime.  Either you oppose the death penalty or you don't.  There is no middle position in death.

    Disagree (5.00 / 2) (#28)
    by sj on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 11:43:14 AM EST
    For years I had two completely opposed views on the DP.

    On the one hand I believed (and still do) to my core that the justice system should represent the purest part of any society -- certainly that of an "enlightened" society. And killing a citizen reduces the justice system to the level of the lowest criminal. The graphic that J used for the post captures that pretty well.

    On the other hand -- Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer. Brutal psychopaths.

    At this point, though, I am finally settled into the first hand. Even for the Ted Bundys and Jeffrey Dahmers. But it's a complex enough issue that a some cognitive dissonance is understandable, and maybe actually kind of appropriate, IMO.


    Thank you (none / 0) (#29)
    by CaptHowdy on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 11:49:25 AM EST
    i couldn't agree more.  And since we are quoting fictional characters-

    "Only the Sith deal in absolutes"


    Thank you (none / 0) (#26)
    by CaptHowdy on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 11:24:23 AM EST
    for schooling me on absolutes.  
    Save your sermons go some one who cares.

    I know this issue is close to your (none / 0) (#19)
    by Militarytracy on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 09:40:06 AM EST
    Heart and soul.  I have great respect for what you have all gone through.  I have seen a few of the suffering hoping for the death penalty.  I don't want to diminish their loss with my opinion.  I don't want to tell them how they should feel.

    No opinion on any of that... (none / 0) (#2)
    by Mr Natural on Tue Apr 21, 2015 at 10:39:19 PM EST
    I do know that if I were stuck in a cell and had been for a while and knew I would be in there for a long time to come, and there was a freakin' cam pointed at me and I couldn't reach it because everything in the place was armored to the max and unreachable and I was manacled to my bed or whatever creepy stuff they're doing to him in there, I'd be flipping it the bird too.  And often.  There's not much else you can do in that situation, really.

    So I don't believe the bird flipping means anything.

    The video of screaming and grievously maimed victims is a different story.


    I think the video (none / 0) (#3)
    by CaptHowdy on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 08:32:29 AM EST
    of him placing the bomb by the child who was killed and then standing there for a bit may too.

    I just watched the after bomb (5.00 / 2) (#5)
    by Militarytracy on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 08:36:51 AM EST
    Video, and my soul screamed out that he must live, he must live everyday knowing we all saw and heard what he did.

    I'm not convinced (none / 0) (#6)
    by CaptHowdy on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 08:46:04 AM EST
    he cares at all what we know or saw.  

    I think it's the punk card (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by Militarytracy on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 08:51:59 AM EST
    Seems like if there is a chance for the self righteous punk mask to fall off, the grind of the years have accomplished that at times.  It is a massive horror to have to be accountable for.  I can't imagine how someone lives with themselves.

    Some people take up poorly painting (none / 0) (#8)
    by Militarytracy on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 08:55:19 AM EST
    Canvasses of their feet though as a distraction.  Who knows?

    But then you can't imagine doing it (none / 0) (#9)
    by CaptHowdy on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 08:57:46 AM EST
    i think its a mistake to assume he has or will have any remorse whatsoever.  He certainly has not shown any.  I think it's entirely possible he sees himself as a martyr and will till the day he dies.  Whenever that is.

    Cool (5.00 / 1) (#14)
    by Militarytracy on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 09:17:24 AM EST
    Just..Allah...please don't let it be by my hand.  That would be a blasphemy.

    I know (none / 0) (#42)
    by NYShooter on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 05:57:30 PM EST
    we're not supposed to criticize the religion, Islam, but, I have to wonder what it is about them that places the killing of innocents, and suicide...."martyrdom," so high on their list of priorities.

    I was watching a documentary recently about a long list of terrorist bombings where the conversations among the terrorists were caught on surveillance tapes. I was taken aback by the fact that, in every single recording, the overriding wish of the bombers was greater for their own "martyrdom" than even the slaughter of so many innocent civilians.


    Sadly it is in the Koran (none / 0) (#43)
    by Militarytracy on Thu Apr 23, 2015 at 07:51:00 AM EST
    And when the Koran is taken literally, just like the Bible, there are some clashes with civilized society and equal protection and basic civil rights.

    An interesting argument (none / 0) (#33)
    by Reconstructionist on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 03:52:04 PM EST

        I think it far overstates the case to say:

    If the jury ... ends up rejecting the death penalty, [I]t would reflect the sea change in public attitude about the death penalty in the last generation."


     " ...it will be difficult for the sentence in such a high-profile terrorism case not to be interpreted as a larger statement on society's view of the appropriate kinds of punishment for the "worst of the worst" in which there is little ambiguity regarding guilt."

       12 people is just people and I don't think  this one  jury's  decision can be viewed as a societal ratification or rejection of the death penalty. I'd think that even if 11-1 for death did not mean LWOP.

      Still a good article.

    Ps (5.00 / 1) (#38)
    by CaptHowdy on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 04:42:23 PM EST
    aljazeera has been kicking butt.  I have been watching them in the morning because I hate Joe and Mica and CNN makes me covet death and sometimes I feel like passively consuming news in the morning.

    I agree (none / 0) (#37)
    by CaptHowdy on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 04:39:37 PM EST
    if it was 12 people in Texas or Oklahoma or Arkansas who rejected the death penalty, perhaps.  

    I agree that 12 people are just 12 people (none / 0) (#44)
    by CST on Thu Apr 23, 2015 at 09:29:26 AM EST
    And I know that there are some posters here who dislike the use of this case (and presumably any case) to politicize the issue.  And I get that sentiment too.

    But I can say that having this case in the spotlight the way it is has gotten people around here talking about it more.  And opposition to the death penalty in the state has never been stronger.  It's worth noting that it was never actually put to popular vote, but was originally struck down by the courts, and since then the state legislature was able to keep Romney from reinstating it.  Public opinion here was not always as anti-death penalty as it has turned out to be.

    So while I don't think the sentencing will be indicative of much, I do think the case is changing public attitude (at least locally) about the death penalty.  Doesn't hurt that the Boston Globe has gone into full crusade mode.


    Rachel (none / 0) (#45)
    by CaptHowdy on Thu Apr 23, 2015 at 03:24:17 PM EST
    did an interesting segment on this last night.  And how getting rid of the death penalty has been gaining traction in the right.  For example, Nebraska, yes Nebraska, just passed law getting rid if the death penalty.  

    12 people (none / 0) (#34)
    by Reconstructionist on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 03:57:21 PM EST
     is just 12 people.

    Some More Interesting Points (none / 0) (#40)
    by RickyJim on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 05:01:45 PM EST
    are in this WSJ article.  It starts off
    BOSTON--After jurors spared Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols the death penalty in 2004, the state trial judge was surprised by their reasoning: Some were so angry at Mr. Nichols that they wanted him to live.

    "Terry Nichols was a healthy 49-year-old man, and they considered that being in a 7-by-9-foot cell for the rest of his life with no human contact was worse than him laying down and taking a shot," said the judge, Steven Taylor, who spoke with some jurors after the sentencing and is now an Oklahoma Supreme Court justice.

    Excellent point (none / 0) (#41)
    by CaptHowdy on Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 05:11:55 PM EST
    i said in another thread up that I was opposed to the death penalty but might personally prefer it to life without the possibility of parole.  I think it's also possible that some might think he has been so completely without remorse because he wants them to "martyr" him.