Both Sides Rest in Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Trial

Both sides rested their case today in the Dzhokar Tsarnaev trial. Closing arguments and deliberations begin Wednesday.

The defense ended its case with the testimony of Sister Helen Prejean. She testified she met with Tsarnaev five times over the past year and he expressed remorse.

"He said it emphatically. He said no one deserves to suffer like they did," said Prejean, the public face of the New Orleans-based Ministry Against the Death Penalty and a Nobel Peace Prize nominee. "I had every reason to think that he was taking it in and that he was genuinely sorry for what he did."


She was not paid for her testimony and she said she would not tell the jury Tsarnaev was remorseful if she really didn't believe it. "It was his voice...It had pain in it actually."

Also testifying today: Government rebuttal witnesses including the Warden of Supermax and the Michelle Nicolet, FBI official who is unit chief of the JTTF and in charge of SAMS. Reporter Jim Armstrong on Twitter recaps their testimony on the conditions at "H" Unit, the step-down program, and how SAMS are removed. He said the jury foreperson "among others" paid close attention to testimony about the restrictive conditions.

< Shot Fired into George Zimmerman's Vehicle | Freddie Gray Thread #3 >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    Excellent opinion piece (5.00 / 1) (#15)
    by Reconstructionist on Tue May 12, 2015 at 03:35:42 PM EST
    WApo guest column

      The rabbi states a persuasive case with brevity and eloquence.

    Yes, it is excellent (none / 0) (#16)
    by Zorba on Tue May 12, 2015 at 03:45:38 PM EST
    And the rabbi pretty much sums up the way I feel, also.

    Why Have Someone Repeat... (none / 0) (#1)
    by ScottW714 on Mon May 11, 2015 at 03:54:34 PM EST
    ...his words when he can say them.  

    Something about putting a person who is against the DP as some sort of expert on remorselessness really rubs me the wrong way.  He could just take the stand and tell them himself.  The jury should judge for themselves, not be told that he is in fact remorseful.

    What is the fear here, that he might slip and start ranting about Allah ?  For me I can't think of anything more compelling than a kid being remorseful about the crimes he committed.  I would want to see that it's genuine.  Someone else telling me to take their word for it misses with me, it would also have me wondering if he's so remorseful 'Why isn't he the one telling me?'

    Doesn't matter I guess,I would never vote 'yes'.

    So the prosecution (none / 0) (#2)
    by oculus on Mon May 11, 2015 at 04:00:43 PM EST
    did not put on a rebuttal witness to Sister Prejean's expertise at determining this defendant is remorseful?

    I couldn't find any reference indicating she has been permitted to testify in any other criminal case on this subject.

    I believe it would have been (5.00 / 2) (#18)
    by KeysDan on Wed May 13, 2015 at 03:13:18 PM EST
    unwise for the prosecutors to put on rebuttal witnesses to Sister Helen's testimony. An attempt to counter her assessment of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's remorsefulness would run into her prominence as a death penalty opponent based on her Faith and in her value of life, even for those like Dzhakhar who are guilty of heinous crimes.

    It can only be wished that Tsarnaev, as a member of the human race, is remorseful for his egregious acts even if he somehow continues to hold in parallel some unexplainable and unfathomable justification.

    But, from my perspective, Tsarnaev's remorsefulness, or not, isn't of critical  relevance.  Rather, it is the resourcefulness of the citizenry to find punishment that does not bring it to the level of, even, the most despicable of criminals.  I am more concerned by the lack of remorsefulness of citizens who see the commensurate punishment to killing as the state's killing of another.  


    how was she qualified as an expert witness??? (none / 0) (#3)
    by thomas rogan on Mon May 11, 2015 at 06:32:30 PM EST
    Sister Helen Prejean was born on April 21, 1939, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She joined the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Medaille in 1957. This religious order is now known as the Congregation of St. Joseph. In 1962, she received a Bachelor of Arts in English and Education from St. Mary's Dominican College, New Orleans, Louisiana. In 1973, she earned a Master of Arts in Religious Education from Saint Paul University in Ottawa, Canada. She has been the Religious Education Director at St. Frances Cabrini Parish in New Orleans, the Formation Director for her religious community and has taught junior and senior high school.[1]

    How exactly does this qualify her as an expert witness?

    The jury is the finder of fact.  The prosecution should have objected to hearsay evidence from a lay person.  He could have testified for himself.  Imagine the outcry if a priest testified that he met with a defendant and felt that that defendant had "no remorse".

    Heck, I suspect that at this point, even the (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by Mr Natural on Mon May 11, 2015 at 08:12:03 PM EST
    prosecution feels a little sympathy for the poor ba$t$rd.  Nobody comes out of this case a winner.  There won't be any cheering, not from anyone you'd want to know in real life.

    And by the way, Nuns and Priests (none / 0) (#5)
    by Mr Natural on Mon May 11, 2015 at 08:17:32 PM EST
    are given a bit of credibility in judging people's feelings.  Some may be lousy at it but that's for the jury to judge.  Even I, a Richard Dawkins follower to the bitter end, feel that.

    Of course, I have no idea what the law is.


    The hearsay rule does not apply (none / 0) (#6)
    by Peter G on Mon May 11, 2015 at 09:52:54 PM EST
    at a federal death penalty hearing, nor does any formal rule defining what constitutes an "expert witness," under section 3593(c) of Title 18, the criminal code. The statute speaks of "information" not "evidence" being presented, and specifies that the Rules of Evidence do not apply. The judge has very wide discretion. (This is also true of ordinary federal sentencings, by the way. "Information" not "evidence" is presented, and per Fed.R.Evid. 1101(d)(3) the rules of evidence do not apply.) Having the defendant's statement of remorse presented indirectly through Sister Helen was a rather clever and no doubt compelling way to get it before the jury, without subjecting Dzhokar to cross-examination by the prosecutor and avoiding the risk that he would say something inappropriate or counter-productive on the witness stand. The only downside is the jury holding against him that he did not take the stand to say it himself. His Fifth Amendment right not to testify continues to apply, but his right to stay silent without any adverse inference being drawn may have been waived by his presentation of the Prejean testimony.

    Does Tsarnaev have a right to allocute (none / 0) (#10)
    by TycheSD on Mon May 11, 2015 at 10:43:44 PM EST
    without cross-examination?  He could have shown remorse during allocution.

    Great question. The common-law right (none / 0) (#14)
    by Peter G on Tue May 12, 2015 at 09:04:45 AM EST
    of allocution -- the right of the convicted defendant to respond, without oath or cross-examination -- to the judge's traditional query "whether you know any reason why judgment should not now be passed upon you," originally applied (in pre-19th Century England) only in "felony" (that is, capital) cases. The governing federal statute, which I linked in my earlier comment, is silent on this issue, that is, whether the defendant may "allocute" before the capital sentencing jury. I vaguely recall cases holding that the Eighth Amendment does not require states with the death penalty to allow this, as long as the defendant does have the right to take the stand like any other sentencing witness.  I honestly don't know how it applies in federal capital cases; there are so few of them, there is little precedent.  Jeralyn may know, from her McVeigh experience.

    According to the local (Boston) news (none / 0) (#8)
    by Amiss on Mon May 11, 2015 at 10:26:50 PM EST
    She is a very well known nun that gains access to those who may be sentenced with the death penalty and then testifies on their behalf at their sentencing hearing. Too bad she wouldn't testify for Tom Brady and the Pats, that penalty was way too harsh.

    If you are not familiar with Helen Prejean, (none / 0) (#9)
    by Peter G on Mon May 11, 2015 at 10:35:01 PM EST
    who wrote a best-selling book ("Dead Man Walking") that was made into an Academy Award-winning movie, you could learn more here.

    Peter, do you know if the court has (none / 0) (#11)
    by oculus on Mon May 11, 2015 at 11:17:36 PM EST
    permitted Sister Helen Prejean to testify in other death penalty cases re defendant's statements of remorse to her and or her opinion that a defendant is remorseful?

    I hadn't heard of this being done before (none / 0) (#13)
    by Peter G on Tue May 12, 2015 at 08:53:04 AM EST
    but one of the articles I read yesterday (can't recall which one) stated that Sister Helen had done so five times previously. On the other hand, I wouldn't be surprised if it was an innovative tactic developed by Judy Clark.

    And her book is the basis for (none / 0) (#12)
    by oculus on Mon May 11, 2015 at 11:19:12 PM EST
    an opera composed by Jake Heggie.

    Prosecution has zero sympathy for Tsarnaev (none / 0) (#7)
    by TycheSD on Mon May 11, 2015 at 09:57:23 PM EST
    Their conduct in this case has been over the top on numerous occasions.

    Also, I understand the hearsay rules are looser in the penalty phase of a trial.

    Jury Instructions (none / 0) (#17)
    by RickyJim on Wed May 13, 2015 at 10:01:25 AM EST
    Some information on them given here.
    The overall question before them will be whether the government has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Tsarnaev's crimes were so heinous that he deserves to be put to death.
    I think I understand what beyond a reasonable doubt means when applied to matters of fact.  But it seems to apply less to matters of punishment which is more about your emotional reaction to the defendant.