April 23, 2015

Tsarnaev trial: the government rests

Filed under: law & crime by Victoria Liberty @ 11:25 pm

The government finished presenting its case after only three days of testimony in the penalty phase of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s trial. Today the court heard from additional survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing, as well as a doctor and an FBI photographer.

The day began, as is often the case, with a lengthy conference in the judge’s chambers. It was nearly 10:00 when the proceedings got underway. The first witness of the day, Marc Fucarile, wheeled himself to the witness stand before the judge or jurors entered the courtroom. Tsarnaev was led in through the side door a few moments later, dressed in a black suit and white button-down shirt, his gaze as usual averted towards the floor. Fucarile, on the other hand, looked intently at Tsarnaev as the now-convicted bomber made his way towards the defense table and chatted quietly with defense attorney Miriam Conrad. Tsarnaev sat calmly, stroking his chin, never acknowledging Fucarile. Defense attorney David Bruck offered water to Tsarnaev and the rest of the team, but they politely declined. Finally the jury arrived, and Judge George O’Toole called court into session.

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April 21, 2015

Tsarnaev trial: the penalty phase begins

Filed under: law & crime by Victoria Liberty @ 11:13 pm

Today the penalty phase began in the trial of convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. For the next few weeks, the government will try to convince the jury to sentence Tsarnaev to death, while his defense team attempts to spare his life.

The proceedings got off to a late start due to a lengthy conference between the lawyers and judge. After an hour of waiting, the court clerk gave the now-familiar warning against photos and recording, adding that no one is allowed to enter or leave the courtroom during opening statements. Tsarnaev was led into the courtroom, wearing a gray V-neck shirt and black suit. Shortly after 10:00, Judge George O’Toole called court into session. He gave the 12 jurors and 6 alternates an overview of how the penalty phase will work. “The law leaves this sentencing decision exclusively to you, the jury,” he said. “It is impossible for me to overstate the importance of the decision before you.” He told the court that only the government will give its opening statement today. The defense will wait until it’s time to present their case, which is projected to be Monday, April 27th.

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April 8, 2015

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev convicted of all charges

Filed under: law & crime by Victoria Liberty @ 9:32 pm

The first phase of the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trial came to an end today, as the defendant was convicted of all charges.

I was lucky enough to snag one of the general public seats in the courtroom to witness the reading of the verdict firsthand. The U.S. Attorney’s office announced that a verdict was reached at 1:24 p.m., triggering a mad dash to Courtroom 9 on the 3rd floor. There, court officers made everyone line up behind a table, and they began calling members of the media into the courtroom alphabetically by newspaper/station name. The general public was finally let in at 1:55. While we waited, attorneys, victims, survivors, and law enforcement officials gradually trickled in, bypassing the line. The atmosphere in the courtroom was very tense, and the attorneys for both sides milled around in the well of the courtroom as everyone in the gallery sat silently.

Court clerk Paul Lyness reminded everyone that no photography or video recording is allowed, and that there must be “complete silence” in the courtroom, with no reactions, physical signs, or demonstrations. Tsarnaev was led into the courtroom with his customary downward gaze, slight smile, and bounce in his step. He was wearing a black suit jacket, gray pants, blue v-neck sweater, and white shirt. At the defense table, Judy Clarke sat to his left and leaned over to talk quietly to him. William Fick sat to his right.

At 2:05, everyone stood as the judge and jury filed in. The jurors appeared somber and looked either downwards or straight ahead, avoiding looking at Tsarnaev. Only the 12 deliberating jurors entered the jury box, while the 6 alternates sat to the side. Lyness instructed the deliberating jurors and the defense team to remain standing. He asked the forewoman if the jury had reached a verdict, she replied yes and handed him the verdict slip, and he brought it to Judge George O’Toole. After the judge looked the slip over, Lyness began to read it aloud. This took about a half hour, as the slip was 32 pages long and contained 30 charges, most with multiple elements and sub-parts.

Tsarnaev Verdict Slip

Tsarnaev was found guilty of each and every charge against him, and the jury answered affirmatively to each of the questions following each charge. Clerk Lyness kept calmly reading, pausing occasionally to take a sip of water. Tsarnaev appeared mostly calm as well. Sometimes he looked down, sometimes he looked towards the jury, sometimes he shifted position, a couple times he crossed his left arm across his body, and a few times he scratched his head or ran his fingers through his hair. It was difficult to tell whether he was fidgeting out of nervousness and self-consciousness, or nonchalance and boredom.

“Madam Foreperson, is that your verdict?” Lyness asked. “Yes,” she replied.

“What say you all?” Lyness asked. “Yes,” the jurors said together.

Judge O’Toole explained that the penalty phase comes next, and that the jurors are still part of an active jury, with the same obligations as before, e.g. avoiding discussions and news reports about the case. “There’ll probably be some today,” he said, in a huge understatement. Tsarnaev sat and listened with his chin resting on his hand. Court adjourned around 2:45. Everyone will get a few days of rest before the penalty phase begins at some point next week.

April 6, 2015

Tsarnaev trial: Closing arguments

Filed under: law & crime by Victoria Liberty @ 11:41 pm

After just over a month of testimony, the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will be in the hands of the jury. Today’s closing arguments packed an emotional punch as the prosecution and defense presented contrasting portraits of the defendant.

Court began at 10:00, an hour late, after lawyers from both sides were called into the judge’s chambers. As he waited for proceedings to begin, Tsarnaev, wearing a black suit and light blue shirt, chatted animatedly with his defense team, especially attorney David Bruck. He fiddled awkwardly with his jacket as he stood for the judge. Judge George O’Toole began the day with instructions for the jury, which lasted nearly an hour and a half. Using as his example the imaginary crime of “knowingly selling an item of apparel without a certificate of origin,” he explained how federal criminal law works. He explained that there are three ways to be guilty of a crime: by directly committing the substantive offense, aiding and abetting, or being part of a conspiracy. And he detailed all the elements of all of the 30 charges against Tsarnaev.

Finally, at 11:30, it was time for closing arguments.

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March 26, 2015

Tsarnaev trial: Bomb-making details and autopsy photos

Filed under: law & crime by Victoria Liberty @ 11:51 pm

Today was another day of detailed and technical testimony in the trial of alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Two explosives specialists from the FBI went over the materials and construction of the bombs that Tsarnaev is charged with using at the Boston Marathon finish line and during the shootout in Watertown. Additionally, at the end of the day, the court heard from the medical examiner who performed the autopsy on bombing victim Krystle Campbell.

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March 16, 2015

Tsarnaev trial: Cops tell of Watertown shootout

Filed under: law & crime by Victoria Liberty @ 11:38 pm

The Watertown shootout was the focus of today’s testimony in the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trial. Today the court heard from three police officers who engaged in a gun battle with the Tsarnaev brothers, as well as two eyewitnesses and an emergency room doctor.

The proceedings got off to a late start. As reporters and members of the public gathered in the hallway outside Courtroom 9, there were numerous whispers that the jury was viewing the infamous bullet-riddled boat where Tsarnaev hid from police. The lawyers on the case gradually filed back to the courthouse, along with two reporters and three sketch artists who had been invited to the boat viewing. The sketch artists sat on benches outside the courtroom, finishing up sketches of the boat, and after the two pool reporters briefed the rest of the media about the morning’s events, court was finally able to begin.

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March 10, 2015

Tsarnaev trial: FBI agents take the stand

Filed under: law & crime by Victoria Liberty @ 9:07 pm

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Last week in the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was filled with emotional and gruesome testimony from survivors and eyewitnesses of the Boston Marathon bombing. Today was more dry and technical, as several FBI agents testified about the defendant’s online activity, his writings in the boat where he hid while on the run, and the process of collecting evidence from the massive crime scene on Boylston Street.

The scene at the courthouse was surprisingly low-key, with less of a media presence than previous days and even some empty benches in the gallery. This meant that as a member of the general public, I got to sit in the second row, right behind the bench reserved for defense team members.

Court got off to a late start, with some of the lawyers going to speak with the judge in chambers. Finally, at 9:30, Tsarnaev was led into the courtroom, wearing a black suit and light blue shirt. Hands clasped in front of him, he appeared to have a slight smile on his face, although he avoided making eye contact with anyone. He sat at the defense table between his lawyers, Judy Clarke and David Bruck, and chatted with them while waiting for proceedings to start, at one point smiling and looking quite animated. I could hear Miriam Conrad, another of his lawyers, ask him, “Hi, how are you?” In response, he nodded and gave a little wave. As the jurors entered the courtroom, he alternated between looking at them and looking down.

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