May 16, 2015

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev sentenced to death

Filed under: law & crime by Victoria Liberty @ 1:12 am

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.

May 13, 2015

Tsarnaev trial: Closing arguments wrap up and deliberations begin

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

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s fate is now in the hands of the jury. It was an intense day in court with dramatic closing arguments and lengthy instructions from the judge before jurors began their deliberations over whether to sentence the convicted Boston Marathon bomber to life in prison or the death penalty.

The atmosphere was tense in Courtroom 9 before the day began. All the benches in the gallery were packed with victims, lawyers, law enforcement officials, spectators, and journalists with laptops and notepads at the ready. As usual, Tsarnaev was led into the courtroom, looking towards the floor, and took his seat at the defense table, where he chatted with lawyers Judy Clarke and Miriam Conrad. He sported his usual longish curly hair, beard, and black suit, this time with a light blue shirt.

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May 7, 2015

Tsarnaev trial: An abbreviated day in court

Filed under: law & crime by Victoria Liberty @ 11:57 pm

For the past two weeks, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s defense team has called a variety of witnesses to the stand in an attempt to spare him from the death penalty. These have included acquaintances who witnessed elder brother Tamerlan’s angry and overbearing personality, relatives who recalled how kind and sensitive Dzhokhar was as a child, teachers and fellow students who described Dzhokhar’s charming and easygoing nature as a child and teen, paramedics who treated Dzhokhar and Tamerlan after the Watertown shootout, experts in Chechen culture and brain development, and even a U.S. Marshal who saw Dzhokhar flip the bird at a holding cell surveillance camera before his arraignment.

Today was a disappointing day in court, as we only got to hear from one witness before the day devolved into seemingly endless closed-door conferences and court was eventually dismissed early. However, I will give a recap of the brief testimony that I was able to hear.

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May 6, 2015

Robert Fitzpatrick indictment is bullying, not justice

Filed under: law & crime by Victoria Liberty @ 10:29 pm

Last Thursday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts announced that Robert Fitzpatrick, retired FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge, was indicted on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. The charges stem from Fitzpatrick’s testimony in the Whitey Bulger trial two years ago. Fitzpatrick testified for the defense, claiming that he had been sent from the FBI’s Washington, DC headquarters to help clean up corruption in the agency’s Boston office, that he had met with Bulger and Bulger had told him he was not an informant, and that he had therefore advocated for Bulger to be officially “closed out” (not considered an informant anymore). The government now alleges that these things weren’t true, and that Fitzpatrick exaggerated about his background, including claiming that he found the gun used to assassinate Martin Luther King, Jr. and that he personally arrested mafia boss Gerry Angiulo.

Bulger’s defense attorney, Hank Brennan, gave an eloquent and brave speech after Fitzpatrick’s arraignment:

“What was it about Robert Fitzpatrick that led the federal government to want to use their resources to charge him with perjury? Was it because somehow they didn’t like his story? That somehow he was adverse to the government, that he stood up to the mountain of strength of the federal government and defied them? It doesn’t matter if the witness lies, steals, or murders, if you’re a soldier of the federal government, they’ll wrap their arms around you and embrace you. You’ll be their friend, they’ll protect you and reward you. If you defy them, they’ll crush you. What it does is it sends a resounding message to law enforcement who want to come forward… it chills their opportunity to come forward.”

(source)

It’s hard to say it any better than Brennan did. Regardless of whether all the details of Fitzpatrick’s testimony were true, the decision to indict him on federal charges is a perfect example of piling on and bullying. Why would the government go through the effort and expense of indicting someone for testifying on behalf of a defense team that was simply doing the best it could to defend one of Boston’s most notorious criminals? Bulger was found guilty of 11 murders and sentenced to two consecutive life terms in prison, so it’s not as if Fitzpatrick’s alleged lies resulted in him being wrongfully set free. The decision to indict Fitzpatrick seems even more ridiculous when one considers the deals that the government made with Bulger’s former gang comrades who agreed to testify against him, including Stephen Flemmi, Kevin Weeks, and John Martorano, who served only 12 years in prison despite committing 20 murders. Out of all the witnesses who have ever lied on the stand in the history of federal court, the U.S. Attorney’s Office chose to indict Fitzpatrick. This is a perfect example of selective prosecution. In an age in which the average person, according to attorney Harvey Silverglate, commits three felonies a day, the government cannot possibly prosecute everyone who breaks the law, so it has the responsibility to make prosecution decisions fairly. The indictment of Fitzpatrick is less about justice and more about silencing those who dare to voice unpopular views.

April 28, 2015

Tsarnaev trial: the defense case begins

Filed under: law & crime by Victoria Liberty @ 1:20 am

Today, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s defense team began their effort to save the convicted Boston Marathon bomber from the death penalty. It was the first day of the defense’s case in the penalty phase of the trial, beginning with the opening statement and continuing with testimony from several witnesses who attempted to shift blame for the bombings to Dzhokhar’s older brother, Tamerlan.

As usual, the day began with an hour-long closed door meeting between the lawyers and judge. A group of Tsarnaev’s relatives have arrived in the country over the weekend, possibly to testify on his behalf, but none appeared to be in the courtroom today. When Tsarnaev was brought into the courtroom, there was no noticeable change in his demeanor for this new phase in the trial. He nodded and whispered with attorneys Miriam Conrad and Judy Clarke, adjusted his collar, stroked his chin, and fiddled with notebooks on the table. As attorney David Bruck gave his opening statement, Tsarnaev sat still, not looking at him and not appearing to pay attention.

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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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