Jurors hear arguments for, against death penalty for Boston bomber

Defense attorneys argue that life imprisonment at the "supermax" prison in Colorado would be a just punishment for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

By Doug G. Ware
Convicted of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, 21-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev now awaits a jury's determination on his punishment -- life in prison, or the death penalty. Photo: UPI
Convicted of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, 21-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev now awaits a jury's determination on his punishment -- life in prison, or the death penalty. Photo: UPI | License Photo

BOSTON, May 7 (UPI) -- Prosecutors, defense attorneys and Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev -- who was convicted of numerous terror-related charges last month -- are still going to court to determine what will happen to the 21-year-old terrorist now.

Defense attorneys are trying to persuade jurors that Tsarnaev belongs behind bars -- while prosecutors argue that the full measure of justice will only be served if he is put to death.


Tsarnaev was convicted on 30 counts related to the bombings, including four murder charges.

Wednesday, the defense attempted to paint a bleak picture of life in prison -- which, they say, will likely be the US Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility "supermax" facility in Colorado, where other notorious criminals like the Unabomber and Zacarias Moussoui are locked up.

Defense consultant Mark Bezy testified that the government in this case has the authority to send Tsarnaev there. And life at the supermax prison, the defense said, is anything but pleasant -- as Tsarnaev would be locked in a cell 23 hours a day and receive extremely limited privileges.


The defense's intention is to get jurors to understand that life imprisonment at the supermax facility is punishment enough for their client, and death is unnecessary.

Prosecutors, though, responded by saying there is absolutely no guarantee Tsarnaev would end up at the Colorado prison -- and that, over time, additional privileges can be earned.

RELATED Poll: Most Bostonians oppose death penalty for marathon bomber

A recent poll indicated that most Boston residents oppose giving Tsarnaev the death penalty. The Richards family, whose 8-year-old son, Martin, was one of three killed in the bombings, said last month they also oppose executing Tsarnaev.

According to a court document, the defense plans next to call noted anti-death penalty advocate Sister Helen Prejean to testify Thursday, NBC News reported. During the early 1980s, Prejean campaigned against capital punishment for Louisiana inmate Patrick Sonnier in a case that was ultimately told in the 1995 film Dead Man Walking, starring Sean Penn.

Prosecutors said they plan to file a motion to prevent Prejean from testifying.

From the start, defense attorneys' ultimate goal was to spare Tsarnaev the death penalty. During the trial and the penalty phase, the lawyers attempted to paint Tsarnaev as a young man who was swayed to terrorism by his radical older brother, Tamerlan, who was killed as police attempted to apprehend the pair four days after the bombings.


Tsarnaev's defense could rest its case Thursday, analysts say, after three weeks of testimony. Two more witnesses, including Prejean, are all that remain on the defense's witness list. Tsarnaev is not expected to take the stand.

Jurors also heard testimony Wednesday from a medical expert who said the brain is often still developing at the age of 19, opening the door for defense lawyers to argue that Tsarnaev was effectively a very young man who was severely manipulated by his older brother. Dzhokhar was 19 at the time of the bombings and Tamerlan was 26.

Defense attorneys also argued that a life imprisonment sentence is better for the country, because Tsarnaev wouldn't be executed for a number of years and he would remain in the public spotlight for much of that time.

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