BOSTON — Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s lawyers pleaded with a jury April 27 to spare his life, portraying him as “a good kid” who was led down the path to terrorism by his increasingly fanatical older brother.
David Bruck delivered the defense’s opening statement in the penalty phase of Tsarnaev’s trial, saying there is no punishment Tsarnaev can get that would be equal to the suffering of the bombing victims.
“There is no evening the scales,” Bruck said. “There is no point in trying to hurt him as he hurt because it can’t be done.”
Tsarnaev, 21, was convicted earlier this month in the twin bombings that killed three spectators and wounded more than 260 other people near the marathon’s finish line on April 15, 2013.
He was also found guilty of killing an MIT police officer during the Tsarnaev brothers’ getaway attempt.
This stage of the trial will determine whether he is executed, as prosecutors are demanding, or spends the rest of his life behind bars, the sentence Bruck urged the jury to impose.
“His legal case will be over for good, and no martyrdom, just years and years of punishment,” the lawyer said. “All the while, society is protected.”
Bruck focused heavily on Tsarnaev’s now-dead older brother, Tamerlan, depicting him as a volatile figure who led the plot. He said Tamerlan was “consumed by jihad” and had “power” over an admiring Dzhokhar.
Bruck said Tamerlan was loud and aggressive, got into fights, failed at everything he did and never held a steady job, while Dzhokhar was a good student in high school, was loved by his teachers there, had many friends and never got in trouble.
“He was a good kid,” the lawyer said. But he said Dzhokhar started going downhill in college, when his parents divorced and returned to Russia, and he was left with Tamerlan as the de facto head of the family.
Bruck said the bombing would not have taken place if Tamerlan hadn’t led the way.
Tamerlan went to Russia for six months in 2012 hoping to join jihadi fighters and returned to the U.S. even more radicalized, Bruck said. He said Russian relatives will describe how “fanatical” he seemed during that visit.
Bruck said Dzhokhar grew up amid turmoil and instability. He was born in the former Soviet Republic of Kyrgyzstan, then moved from place to place with his parents and siblings before settling in the U.S. in 2002 when he was 8, the attorney said.
Bruck showed the jury photos of the Supermax prison in Colorado, where Tsarnaev would probably serve his sentence if he were given life instead of the death penalty.
Tsarnaev’s existence there would be austere, with most of his time spent in solitary confinement and his communication with the outside world severely restricted, Bruck said.
Tsarnaev was a 19-year-old college student at the time of the bombing. His brother, 26, was killed days after the attack when he was shot by police and run over by Dzhokhar during a chaotic getaway attempt.
All eight witnesses called by the defense focused not on Dzhokhar but on Tamerlan — specifically, his aggressiveness and deepening fervor.
Loay Assaf, an imam, said that three months before the bombing, Tamerlan became furious and interrupted a prayer service at a local mosque after Assaf likened the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to the Prophet Muhammad. Assaf said Tamerlan took a “fighting stance” and began pointing at him and shouting.
“He said, ‘You’re a hypocrite,’ insulting me with this,” Assaf said.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s mother-in-law, Judith Russell, testified that Tamerlan became increasingly strident about religion and the U.S. He talked about “this country’s influence and harm to Islamic countries,” she said.
The prosecution made its case in the penalty phase last week, calling victims and family members to the stand to recall the attack in hair-raising detail.
Prosecutors painted Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as an unrepentant killer, showing the jury a photo of him giving the finger to the security camera in his jail cell three months after his arrest.
Bruck downplayed the gesture, saying Tsarnaev was just “acting like an immature 19-year-old.”