“All rise,” said the clerk, and they all rose, including the defendant, whose slight build and guileless face belie the horrific things he had done. That contrast is at the core of the defense’s strategy to save the life of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, whose trial entered its sentencing phase this week. The trial had been heading here since the opening statement, when Judy Clarke said, “It was him,” acknowledging in three syllables that her client had committed the crimes of which he stood accused – that he was one of two men whose knapsacks filled with bombs brought carnage and never-ending grief to the Boston Marathon two years ago. Clarke’s aim was not to assert Tsarnaev’s innocence, but to save his life. On Monday, the defense team cut right to the chase: Spare our client the death penalty, said attorney David Bruck, because life in prison without the possibility of parole is far worse. “One punishment is over quickly, the other will last for life,” condemned to a solitary existence 12x7-foot cell at Colorado’s super max prison, described by its former warden as “a clean version of hell.”
The defense’s portrait of Tsarnaev as a lost teenager – “a good kid” from a disintegrated family, overwhelmed by his murderous and fanatical brother – points to the possibility of rehabilitation.
“When it’s 23 hours a day in a room with a slit of a window where you can’t even see the Rocky Mountains,” ex-warden Robert Hood told Mark Binelli, “let’s be candid here. It’s not designed for rehabilitation.”
The defense relentlessly builds its case of humanizing Jokar.
He was an incredibly hard worker who “always wanted to do the right thing,” his third-grade teacher told the jury.
“He looks around the room,” said a spectator, “and maybe it’s the last time he sees a woman in his life.”
“Jokar was super smart, very kind . . . a really lovely person,” said his fifth-grade teacher.
“This is where the government keeps other terrorists who used to be famous but aren’t anymore,” Bruck told the jury, “He goes here and he’s forgotten. No more spotlight like the death penalty brings . . . no martyrdom . . . no autobiography . . . no nothing.”
“He was quiet, friendly, humble,” said his eighth-grade teacher. “All the teachers loved him.”
“He’ll be crazy in a couple of months,” said a spectator.
In their determination to save his life, have his lawyers condemned Tsarnaev to a living death?
“Why don’t they just ask him?” said a spectator.