BOSTON, MA – Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s attorney made one thing clear during her opening statement in the Boston Marathon bombing trial: He did it.
“It was him,” defense attorney Judy Clarke told jurors.
Tsarnaev did carry the pressure cooker bombs on April 15, 2013, and placed them near the finish line, she said. He was there when a police officer was killed. He was involved in a shootout with police.
The accused bomber will not sidestep any of his actions, Clarke said.
So, why even a trial at all?
Because there’s disagreement over why Tsarnaev did it, Clarke said.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was influenced by his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Clarke said. He was enlisted by his brother to commit these horrific acts, she said.
The first day of the trial provided jurors with a peek at the strategies of the prosecution and defense.
Based on their opening statements, both sides agree on the basic facts around the attacks — who carried them out and how. But both sides presented divergent views of why Dzhokhar Tsarnaev carried out the attacks.
The goal of the Tsarnaev brothers was to kill as many people as possible, U.S. prosecutor Bill Weinreb said during his initial statement to jurors.
The prosecutor described in detail the deaths of three victims near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon and painted a picture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as a holy warrior committed to violence.
More than 260 others were maimed or injured by two pressure cooker bombs that exploded within 12 seconds of each other.
A fourth person, an MIT police officer, was ambushed and killed in his patrol car three days after the bombings as Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan, allegedly ran from police.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was killed after a gun battle with police.
So it is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev who is on trial, charged with 30 counts related to the bombings.
Weinreb said that Tsarnaev’s actions after the bombings — going to Whole Foods to buy a gallon of milk, hanging out with friends — show that he didn’t care about what he did. To the contrary, the prosecutor told jurors, he believed he had done good.
The motive for the attacks can be found in the boat that ultimately became Tsarnaev’s hideout before his arrest, he said. There, Tsarnaev allegedly wrote messages explaining that he believed the U.S. government is an enemy of Islam.
Tsarnaev listened to jihadist lectures and songs, and had an online presence where he espoused a radical view of Islam, Weinreb said.
He had a collection of magazines published by al Qaeda, one with instructions for building the same type of bomb used in the Boston Marathon attack, he said.
The defense pinned the radicalization on Tamerlan.
Clarke showed two side-by-side photos in court: One of the brothers smiling, and one of them carrying backpacks linked to the attacks.
The attacks were “incomprehensible, they’re inexcusable,” she said, but also asked, who turned Tsarnaev from the smiling kid into a bomber?
It was Tamerlan who self-radicalized, and Tamerlan who influenced his brother to follow him, she argued.
Jury cuts across class, but not race
It took nearly two months of juror interviews — 256 people over 22 court days — to select the jury.
The group includes 18 people from across the socioeconomic spectrum, but the group is almost exclusively white.
Race has been an issue raised by Tsarnaev’s defense during four unsuccessful attempts to move the death penalty trial from Boston. His attorneys argued that the way the court issues jury summons led to picking a panel that’s older and whiter than the community at large. But prosecutors argued that the jury had been picked properly.
“The prosecution got exactly what they wanted,” said CNN legal analyst Mark Geragos, who is a criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles.
Middle-aged white jurors tend to be more likely to support death penalty verdicts, he said.
“It’s a target demographic for a death penalty jury.”
Just one juror seemed to combine youth and ethnic diversity. A college student who is taking a break from his studies, he said his mother was born in Iran and converted from Islam to the Bahai faith.
Will boat be brought to court?
The Slip Away, a boat in which Tsarnaev sought cover after the police gun battle, also is expected to be a key piece of evidence. The prosecution is seeking to remove a panel on which Tsarnaev allegedly scrawled incriminating messages so that jurors can see it with their own eyes.
Weinreb has said the boat is too large to bring into the courthouse.
The defense, however, wants the jury to see the entire boat, complete with bullet holes. Defense attorney David Bruck argued that cutting out a panel would take the written words out of context and wouldn’t fairly reflect Tsarnaev’s state of mind.
Court papers have already given the public a glimpse of several statements Tsarnaev allegedly wrote inside the boat:
“The U.S. Government is killing our innocent civilians,” he allegedly wrote. “I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished.”
“We Muslims are one body. You hurt one, you hurt us all.”
“Now I don’t like killing innocent people. It is forbidden in Islam but due to said (unintelligible) it is allowed.”
“Stop killing our innocent people and we will stop.”