The Boston Marathon bombing trial came to an end today as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev became one of the few people ever to be sentenced to death in a Massachusetts courtroom. I was able to witness the reading of the verdict firsthand, and it was an intense, dramatic, and historic moment.
I got to the Moakley federal courthouse in the morning to put my name on the sign-in sheet. Court was very briefly called into session at 8:30. Tsarnaev, wearing a black suit and gray shirt, was very animated while chatting with defense attorneys Judy Clarke and Miriam Conrad. He even glanced back towards the gallery, something I’ve never seen him do before, perhaps to see how many spectators were in court. After Judge George O’Toole noted that the jurors were all present, they were promptly dismissed to get back to work on deliberations.
Nothing happened until, at 2:37, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that a verdict had been reached. Journalists, members of the trial teams, victims, law enforcement officials, and spectators raced to Courtroom 9, and court was reconvened at 3:00. The court clerk warned everyone in the packed, silent courtroom that no demonstrations or outbursts would be allowed, and that anyone who does this will be held in contempt of court. Tsarnaev was led into court by U.S. Marshals, looking the same as he usually does, gazing at the floor and betraying no emotion. At the defense table, Clarke placed her hand reassuringly on the back of his chair and said a few words to him. Unlike this morning, when they engaged in lighthearted chatter while waiting for court to begin, Tsarnaev and his defense team seemed subdued.
Everyone stood as the judge and jury entered the room. As the verdict was read, the jury and the defense team – Tsarnaev, Clarke, Conrad, David Bruck, Tim Watkins, and Bill Fick – remained standing. The court clerk collected the verdict slip from the forewoman and gave it to Judge O’Toole, who reviewed and OK’d it.
I will not go over all of the answers that the jurors gave on the 20-page verdict slip, as this information has been reported elsewhere countless times. The clerk began with the finding that Tsarnaev was at least 18 years old at the time of the crime and that the four gateway factors applied. With respect to the statutory and non-statutory aggravating factors alleged by the government, the jurors unanimously found that all of these but one applied. For example, the jurors found that the crimes were committed in an “especially heinous, cruel, and depraved manner,” that he demonstrated a lack of remorse, and that he participated in additional, uncharged crimes of violence during the Watertown shootout. The one aggravating factor that they did not find unanimously was that Tsarnaev suggested that others would be justified in committing similar acts of terrorism. With respect to the mitigating factors, the jurors overall did not seem impressed with the defense team’s case. Only three jurors agreed that Dzhokhar acted under the influence of his brother Tamerlan, that he was “particularly susceptible” to Tamerlan’s influence, that Tamerlan “planned, led, and directed” the bombing, and that Dzhokhar would not have committed the bombing if it weren’t for Tamerlan. Only two jurors found that Tamerlan was the person who shot Officer Sean Collier, only two found that he has “expressed sorrow and remorse,” and only one juror found that Tsarnaev was “highly unlikely” to commit or incite acts of violence in the future.
The full Verdict Slip can be found here.
As the verdict was read, Tsarnaev exhibited much the same demeanor that he has every day in court. He shifted from side to side, occasionally touched his face, adjusted his suit, and fixed his hair. He looked downwards for most of the time, but seemed to look towards the jury and to grow more still as the reading of the verdict went on.
The clerk asked the foreperson if the verdict was correct, and she replied, “Yes, it is.” He then asked the jurors as a whole, and they replied, “yes.” As Judge O’Toole began to thank the jurors, defense attorney Bruck interrupted to ask that the jurors be polled individually. The judge obliged, and each of the jurors responded in the affirmative.
Then Judge O’Toole thanked the jurors on behalf of the court and their fellow citizens. He praised them for their “careful, rational, and solemn judgments” in the face of the emotional subject matter, and for bearing the inconvenience of jury service with “grace and understanding.” He told them that they should be proud of their service. He warned them that their names, towns, and juror questionnaires will eventually be made public, and he spoke of the dangers of publicly discussing their deliberations, although he cannot prohibit them from doing so. Judge O’Toole praised the lawyers as well, saying that they have behaved civilly and that “their advocacy has been both zealous and skillful.” He even praised Tsarnaev, saying that the defendant “comported himself with composure and propriety” throughout the trial. Finally, he praised the members of the public for their “respectful presence,” whether they have attended for themselves, for someone else, or to share information with the world.
At about 3:40, Tsarnaev was led from the courtroom. His five lawyers drifted towards the door that he was led through, possibly to meet with him after court. The defense team members sitting in the three benches in front of me in the gallery appeared noticeably upset. Finally, everyone stood for the jury one last time and somberly filed out of the courtroom.
With this verdict, Tsarnaev joins Gary Sampson as one of the only two people from Massachusetts currently under a sentence of death. The death penalty is not an option in Massachusetts state court. Tsarnaev will officially be sentenced at a sentencing hearing at a date to be determined.