Boston, March 5: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev went on trial for his life on Thursday in the Boston Marathon bombing with his own lawyer bluntly telling the jury he did it. But she argued that he had fallen under the evil influence of his older brother.
Judy Clarke, one of the foremost death-penalty defence attorneys in the US, delivered a startling opening statement in the nation's most closely watched terrorism trial since the Oklahoma City bombing nearly 20 years ago. "It was him," Clarke said of Tsarnaev.
Three people were killed and more than 260 hurt when two pressure-cooker bombs exploded near the marathon's finish line seconds apart on April 15, 2013.
Tsarnaev is accused of carrying out the attacks with his older brother, now dead. Laying out an argument clearly aimed at saving Tsarnaev from the death penalty, Clarke said that the defense will not try to "sidestep" his guilt for the "senseless, horribly misguided acts carried out by two brothers."
"The evidence will not establish and we will not argue that Tamerlan put a gun to Dzhokhar's head or that he forced him to join in the plan," Clarke said, "but you will hear evidence about the kind of influence that this older brother had."
Tsarnaev's lawyers have made it clear they will try to show that at the time of the attack, Tsarnaev, then 19, looked up to his older brother, Tamerlan, 26, and was heavily influenced by him. They plan to portray Tamerlan as the mastermind of the attack. He died in a shootout with police days after the bombings.
But prosecutors say Dzhokhar was an equal participant who acted of his own free will. They contend the brothers ethnic Chechens who arrived from Russia more than a decade ago were driven by anger over US wars in Muslim lands. Tsarnaev faces 30 charges in the bombings and the shooting death days later of a police officer.
Seventeen of the charges carry the possibility of the death penalty. Clarke began laying out her case after prosecutors sketched out the scene of horror at the marathon and accused him of cold-bloodedly planting a bomb designed to "tear people apart and create a bloody spectacle," and then hanging out with his college buddies as if nothing had happened.
"He believed that he was a soldier in a holy war against Americans," Assistant US Attorney William Weinreb said. "He also believed that by winning that victory, he had taken a step toward reaching paradise. That was his motive for committing these crimes."
A shaggy-haired, goateed Tsarnaev, 21, slouched in his seat and looked at Weinreb as the prosecutor launched into his opening statement.
After the bombings, Tsarnaev "acted like he didn't have a care in the world," the prosecutor said. Weinreb said Tsarnaev went back to the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth and hung out with his friends.
"While victims of the bombing lay in the hospital and learned that they would have to have their limbs chopped off to save their lives, the defendant pretended that nothing had happened," Weinreb said.