Tsarnaev admits guilt, apologizes and is sentenced to death UPDATED BELOW

Judge George O’Toole sentenced Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death today for his role in the Boston Marathon Bombing case. The sentence was not in doubt because he was obligated to formally sentence him to death, given the jury’s death verdict.

Victims who survived and family members of victims who died came to court today to speak at sentencing. Here is a sample of what they said,

Johanna Hantel:

“If have to crawl I am going to run every year. I will not let this sickening act take that away from me.”

Unknown Person:

“I came to the first two days of the trial…the defendant, he sat there blank. I realized, I’m alive, and he’s already dead.”

Krystle Campbell’s mother:

“The choices you made were despicable.”

Officer Sean Collier’s sister:

“I do not know the defendant, nor do I care to know him. He is a coward and a liar. He ran his own brother over with a car. He had no issues shooting mine in the head . . . he spit in the face of the American dream.”

Bill and Denise Richard:

“He chose hate. He chose destruction. He chose death . . . We choose love. We choose kindness. We choose peace. This is what makes us different than him. On the day he meets his maker, may he understand what he has done and may justice and peace be found.”

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev spoke for the first time during the trial.*

“Thank you, your honor….I would like to begin in the name of Allah . . . This is the blessed month of Ramadan, the month of mercy . . . the month to ask forgiveness. I ask forgiveness of Allah & to his creation . . . In trial more of victims given names and faces. All those on witness stand, I was listening. I was listening, I heard strength, patience, dignity. Id like to thank the jury. I would like to apologize to the victims and the survivors. I am sorry for the lives I have taken and the suffering I caused and the damage I’ve done. I have done irreparable damage. I ask Allah for mercy for me and for my brother . . . I pray to Allah to bestow his mercy on you . . . I pray for your relief, for your healing. For your well-being, for your health. Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the world. Thank you.”

*I composed his statement from reviewing hundreds of tweets from the courtroom as they were posted on twitter.

UPDATE: We now have a court transcript of his statement from the Boston Globe:

Thank you, your Honor, for giving me an opportunity to speak. I would like to begin in the name of Allah, the exalted and glorious, the most gracious, the most merciful, “Allah” among the most beautiful names. Any act that does not begin in the name of God is separate from goodness.

This is the blessed month of Ramadan, and it is the month of mercy from Allah to his creation, a month to ask forgiveness of Allah and of his creation, a month to express gratitude to Allah and to his creation. It’s the month of reconciliation, a month of patience, a month during which hearts change. Indeed, a month of many blessings.

The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said if you have not thanked the people, you have not thanked God. So I would like to first thank my attorneys, those who sit at this table, the table behind me, and many more behind the scenes. They have done much good for me, for my family. They made my life the last two years very easy. I cherish their company. They’re lovely companions. I thank you.

I would like to thank those who took time out of their daily lives to come and testify on my behalf despite the pressure. I’d like to thank the jury for their service, and the Court. The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said that if you do not — if you are not merciful to Allah’s creation, Allah will not be merciful to you, so I’d like to now apologize to the victims, to the survivors.

Immediately after the bombing, which I am guilty of — if there’s any lingering doubt about that, let there be no more. I did do it along with my brother — I learned of some of the victims. I learned their names, their faces, their age. And throughout this trial more of those victims were given names, more of those victims had faces, and they had burdened souls.

Now, all those who got up on that witness stand and that podium related to us — to me — I was listening — the suffering that was and the hardship that still is, with strength and with patience and with dignity. Now, Allah says in the Qur’an that no soul is burdened with more than it can bear, and you told us just how unbearable it was, how horrendous it was, this thing I put you through. And I know that you kept that much. I know that there isn’t enough time in the day for you to have related to us everything. I also wish that far more people had a chance to get up there, but I took them from you.

Now, I am sorry for the lives that I’ve taken, for the suffering that I’ve caused you, for the damage that I’ve done. Irreparable damage.

Now, I am a Muslim. My religion is Islam. The God I worship, besides whom there is no other God, is Allah. And I prayed for Allah to bestow his mercy upon the deceased, those affected in the bombing and their families. Allah says in the Qur’an that with every hardship there is relief. I pray for your relief, for your healing, for your well-being, for your strength.

I ask Allah to have mercy upon me and my brother and my family. I ask Allah to bestow his mercy upon those present here today. And Allah knows best those deserving of his mercy. And I ask Allah to have mercy upon the ummah of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. Amin. Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds.

Thank you.

Closing arguments completed today in Tsarnaev penalty phase

After 63 witnesses testified in the penalty phase, Steve Mellin stepped up to the lectern in courtroom 9 this morning, faced the jury and gave the government’s opening closing argument. Judy Clarke gave Jahar Tsarnaev’s closing argument. William Weinreb delivered the government’s rebuttal argument. The jury has retired to the jury room to begin deliberations. No one expects a verdict today.

The government led off, since it has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the aggravating evidence sufficiently outweighs the mitigation evidence. If the jury unanimously agrees that the government satisfied its burden, it will sentence Jahar Tsarnaev to death. That means that the sentence will be life without possibility of parole (LWOP), even if 11 jurors agree that the government met its burden, but one does not.

I was surprised that the government doubled down on Jahar Tsarnaev’s middle-finger salute to a video camera to prove absence of remorse while he was waiting in a holding cell for his arraignment. They clearly took it out of context, as became evident when the entire clip was shown. To double down in both closings today really confirmed what I have been saying ever since they got caught. Their objectivity and professionalism was overcome by their blood lust. They should be embarrassed and remorseful, but they aren’t. That makes them hypocrites in my book.

Before Steve Mellin began his argument, Judge O’Toole spent more than an hour reading the instructions aloud to the jury. Important distinctions to keep in mind are:

1) aggravating factors must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, whereas mitigating factors only need to be proven by a preponderance of the evidence;

2) jurors must unanimously agree that an aggravating factor has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt to consider it in determining the sentence, whereas they do not have to unanimously agree that a mitigating factor has been proven by a preponderance of the evidence;

3) jurors must individually decide how much weight to assign to the aggravating and mitigating evidence;

4) weight cannot be determined by any objective, mathematical or mechanical formula; and

5) since the death penalty is never automatic in any case, a juror can decide that the aggravating evidence does not merit the death penalty, even if there is no mitigation evidence.

For example, despite what he did, Jahar’s friends described him as kind and his aunts and cousins love him. Pursuant to these instructions, a juror could decide that the evidence admitted in aggravation does not sufficiently outweigh the evidence admitted in mitigation and vote to impose a sentence of LWOP. Or a juror could similarly decide that the evidence admitted in aggravation does not sufficiently outweigh Jahar’s father’s mental illness, his mother’s emotional instability and her religious extremism and their abandonment of the family leaving Tamerlan in charge.

You can expect Judy Clarke will focus on all mitigation factors, including his age, immaturity and absence of a criminal a criminal record, as well as the ones I mentioned in my examples in the preceding paragraph.

The following quotes are from the twitter feed by the pool of reporters in court covering the trial.

Steve Mellin began, “There’s so much death and loss and devastation in this case, it’s hard to know where to begin.”

“He killed indiscriminately to make a political statement. His actions have earned him a sentence of death. The defense will ask you to value the defendant’s life, but he did not value the lives of his victims.”

“After causing all this pain and suffering, this defendant went out and bought a gallon of milk. He acted like it was just any other day . . . he didn’t care.”

Regarding what Jahar wrote in the boat, “No remorse, no apology. Those are the words of a terrorist.”

“Remember the river of blood running down the sidewalk.”

“Death and misery is what he sought that day. There is no just punishment other than death.”

“What deserves more weight? What the defendant did or the speculation of what Tamerlan said?”

“Nowhere in that manifesto did he write, my brother made me do it.”

“He made a conscious decision to destroy loving and caring families. The mitigating factors are weightless.”

“All murderers start out as cute children. But sometimes, cute children grow up to be bad people.”

“After all the terror, carnage and fear that he caused, the right punishment is clear. The only sentence that will bring justice to this case is death.”

Judy Clarke began her closing after the lunch break.

“Jahar still had friends [after the bombing]. They said he was loyal, laid-back, funny. Sweet, shy and goofy.” one girl said.

[In the two years Tsarnaev has been in prison], “He’s never tried to influence anybody about his beliefs… never tried to break the rules.”

Over two years in prison, and all the government has on Tsarnaev is the still image of a middle finger. They took the clip entirely out of context..when he was called on it what did he say? I’m sorry. He apologized.”

“What unrepentant … young jihadi is going to meet with a Catholic nun? The picture the government painted of Tsarnaev as unrepentant & unchanged is not true. We ask you to reflect on Sister Helen Prejean’s testimony. It shows the great potential for redemption. Government may tell you he pulled the wool over Sister Helen’s eyes. She’s experienced and wouldn’t lie about what she thinks. He is grown. He is sorry and he is remorseful.”

“You can find one mitigating factor outweighs all aggravating. You can find no mitigating factors and still give life sentence.”

“You have an obligation to hear each other. You have no obligation to vote for death. No one of you has to ever, ever vote for death penalty”

“The law values life and you have no responsibility to vote for death. Each individual is a safe guard” against the death penalty.”

“He will die under bleak conditions, with no fame and no attention, and no glory or stature that martyrdom might bring.”

“Even if you believe that is who [the government says] he is, that is not who we are,”

Life in prison “reflects justice and mercy” and allows for redemption.

“Mercy is never earned but it is bestowed,”

William Weinreb spoke in rebuttal.

“Where is the evidence of brainwashing or mind control? Where is the evidence that he was under his brothers spell?”

“The whole middle finger video was worse than just clip. He was remorseless in court too.”

“Tsarnaev’s friends, relatives, teachers, told you who he was. His crimes tell you who he is.”

“Yes, you know who Tsarnaev was as a child. But you must consider who he became as an adult.”

“Life is the minimum punishment allowed by law for this, does he deserve the minimum punishment for those four deaths?”

Sister Helen Prejean spoke today for Jahar Tsarnaev

The defense and prosecution rested today and it looks like the jury is going to have to decide what sentence to impose without hearing directly from the defendant, Jahar Tsarnaev. Instead, they heard from him indirectly through the testimony of Sister Helen Prejean who met with him in March at the request of the defense team. Sister Helen is a Catholic nun best known for her opposition to the death penalty and her book, Dead Man Walking.

I walked in the room and looked at his face and I remembered thinking, Oh God, he’s so young . . . He said it emphatically. He said [refering to the Boston Marathon bombing victims], ‘No one deserved to suffer like they did.’ He kind of lowered his eyes. It was his voice. It had pain in it.

I’ve said many times that, if Jahar Tsarnaev wants to avoid the death penalty, he will have to own what he did, accept responsibility, express remorse and ask for mercy. He confessed his sin through Sister Helen.

Rather interesting to have a Muslim boy confessing his sin to a Catholic nun.

Whether her testimony on his behalf will carry the day remains to be seen.

I certainly hope it does.

All of this happened today without hearing the word allocution.

Closing arguments will begin Wednesday morning.

Boston Bombing News: Too “Dangerous” to Be Spared Execution?

(The following is my account of my observations and perceptions having attended the eighth day, (Thursday, 7th. May), in the penalty phase of trial in the case of U.S. v. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.)

Proceedings in the courtroom today were once again subject to a lengthy delay while both the defense and prosecution teams met with Judge O’Toole in his chambers. At the time of writing the matters under discussion during this meeting remain unconfirmed but there has been much speculation that dialogue may have been concerning:

a) The prosecution’s objections to the prospect of Sister Prejean, (a well known and long time opponent of the death penalty), taking the stand as a witness for the defense.

b) The government’s threats to introduce allegedly “defiant” notes which were, (allegedly), written by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev whilst he was hospitalized and recovering from multiple gunshot wounds following his capture in April, 2013. (The government apparently wish to introduce these notes in retaliation for the defense’s introduction of testimony showing Tsarnaev’s now infamous “hand gesture” to be far less meaningful than the government attempted to project.)

Of course, there may also have been other matters for discussion this morning…

When judge, jury, legal teams and the defendant returned to the courtroom testimony picked up where it left off the previous day. On Wednesday the defense called their forty third witness, Mark Bezy, who is now retired after a career exceeding twenty years with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Bezy was at one time warden at Terre Haute, (death row), in Indiana and also worked at the Supermax at Marrion, Illinois prior to this facility being replaced by ADX in Colorado.

Yesterday afternoon Tsarnaev’s defense extracted testimony from this witness which served to illustrate the very secure but shockingly inhumane conditions encountered by inmates at ADX. It seems obvious that the defense’s objective in obtaining such testimony is to avert the death penalty by convincing the death penalty “qualified” jury, (aka a jury whose members have indicated that they approve state sponsored murder), that LWOP would a harsher penalty than execution. (Or, as David Bruck phrased it in his opening statement, an “appropriate” penalty.)

By contrast, the prosecution, in their desperation to secure Tsaranaev’s execution, have sought, under cross examination, to portray ADX, (once held up to be an example of the ultimate in security), as inadequate and having many failings. The prosecution intimate that a facility such as ADX is in no way up to the job of protecting the American public from the evil of one such as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. (This, despite the fact that “H” block at ADX houses multiple inmates convicted of crimes which constitute “terrorism.”) (more…)