The defense attorney for alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev said Wednesday that it was his brother Tamerlan, and not Tsarnaev himself, who killed MIT Police Officer Sean Collier on April 18, 2013.
In her opening statement in federal court, defense attorney Judy Clarke tried to magnify Tamerlan’s role in the bombings and the subsequent “path of devastation.”
Lead prosecutor William Weinreb argued that Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan were partners in the murder and acted together as they shot him 6 times: twice in the side of the head, once between the eyes, and three times in his right hand.
Weinreb also revealed some of the types of evidence that will be presented in the trial. He said that an MIT graduate student in the math department saw Tsarnaev look directly at him as he rode past the attack taking place near the Stata Center. And afterward, Weinreb said, Collier’s blood was found on two white gloves in Tsarnaev’s Honda Civic.
Clarke painted a different picture. “Tamerlan shot and killed Officer Collier,” she said definitively.
According to Clarke, when Tamerlan went on to carjack a young man in a Mercedes, he held up a gun and told him, “I just killed a police officer.”
Collier’s father was present in the courtroom Wednesday, along with other victims’ family members.
Tsarnaev was also present, wearing a black suit for the first time in public. To his left was Clarke, a notable defense attorney who has kept several other high-profile defendants off death row. To his right was Miriam Conrad, who has previously represented clients like the shoe-bomber Richard Reid.
Prosecution’s opening statements
Opening statements began with Weinreb speaking on behalf of the government. After recounting a vivid description of the bombings and the horrific scene that ensued, Weinreb argued that Tsarnaev was responsible for the violence and was motivated by extremist views.
Weinreb painted a picture of a young adult who became an Islamic terrorist after “reading terrorist writings and listening to terrorist lectures,” all while maintaining a “double identity” as a student at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.
The prosecution maintained that Tsarnaev and his brother were “partners in crime,” playing similar roles in the preparation and execution of the attacks. Both were responsible for triggering a bomb at the marathon and both attacked officers in the Watertown manhunt, according to Weinreb.
Most strikingly, Weinreb argued that Tsarnaev was completely cold-blooded when committing these crimes. Only 20 minutes after allegedly setting off the second bomb, Tsarnaev drove to the Whole Foods in Central Square and bought a gallon of milk, before returning shortly after to exchange it for a new one, according to Weinreb. That evening, he went to the gym and even attended a party.
Defense’s opening statements
Clarke followed Weinreb with the opening statements for the defense. She acknowledged the “unbearable grief, loss, and pain” associated with the bombings.
“We meet in the most tragic of circumstances,” Clarke said.
She said that the defense does not deny that Tsarnaev, who she referred to by his nickname, Jahar, was involved in the bombings.
“It was him,” she told the 18-person jury.
The defense did contest, however, the prosecution’s explanation of Tsarnaev’s motivation for committing the crimes. Unlike Weinreb, Clarke maintained that Tsarnaev’s brother was the mastermind of the bombings. She said he was the one responsible for buying the pressure cooker and shrapnel used in the bomb, as well as for killing Collier.
“It was Dzhokhar who followed him,” said Clarke.
Clarke concluded by asking the jurors to listen “not only to the who, what, where and when, but also the how and why” for any evidence presented in the trial.
The day became emotional shortly after opening statements ended. Jurors were presented with several graphic videos of the bombings as witnesses took the stand.
Shane O’Hara, the manager of a sports store right at the marathon’s finish line, was the second to the stand. He recalled hearing the sound of the first bomb and seeing an “instant cloud of dust” and smoke that “completely engulfed the whole window.”
Footage from inside the store at the time of the blasts was played before the jury. There was a sudden jolt in the video feed, and within seconds people could be seen running inside to take cover.
A woman came in, and seeing blood dripping down her leg, O’Hara immediately grabbed a pair of shorts off a hanger and tied a tourniquet for her. “One of the goofinesses of me is that I look at [people’s] feet,” he told the jury.
It wouldn’t be his first tourniquet. As people screamed outside for help, O’Hara came with makeshift “tourniquets, gauze, and pressure holders” that he made with the store’s merchandise.
“What haunts me is making decisions,” O’Hara said as he choked up. “Who needed help first, who was more injured than the other?” He felt it wasn’t his role to decide, yet there was no one else to do it.
Jurors were presented with other heartfelt testimonies from bombing victims throughout the rest of the day, with more expected Thursday.
The chosen jury
Wednesday’s court session comes after a lengthy jury selection process.
Over the past months, Tsarnaev’s defense team has sent the court four requests to move the trial out of Massachusetts. Judge George O’Toole has denied all of them, including one on Wednesday.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has similarly denied the two requests sent to them, even after hearing oral arguments on a request two weeks ago.
Tsarnaev is now being tried in a federal courthouse only miles from where the bombings took place.
The 18 jurors present on Wednesday were chosen from over 1,300 prospective jurors in an arduous process that involved two months of questioning and eliminating those who had already come to a conclusion about Tsarnaev’s guilt or who took absolute positions on the death penalty.
This Tuesday, the final jurors were selected from the 58 deemed eligible over the past months. Attorneys on both sides exercised their peremptory challenges and each rejected 20 jurors for whatever reasons they saw fit. The jurors range from a student and a single parent to a fashion designer and an air traffic controller.
One juror is a balding man in energy resource sales who said during the selection process that he was “honored to be eligible to serve.” Like many of the jurors, he is ambivalent on the death penalty and said he will rely on the facts.
Another juror is a man who works as a telecommunications engineer at Massachusetts General Hospital and was at the hospital the day of the bombings when victims were brought in, although he was in a different part of the building.
Observers in the courtroom on Wednesday were quick to note that all the jurors are white, except for one juror of Iranian descent. Eight are men and 10 are women.
Of the 18 jurors, only 12 will be deciding whether or not to convict Tsarnaev and give him the death penalty. The other six are alternates, although that distinction will likely not be known until deliberations at the end of the trial.