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The Sentencing Phase of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s Trial • Mirror Daily

It was April 15, 2013 when the twin bombings that occurred during the Boston Marathon took the life of three and injured more than 260 persons attending the event.

After terror infused breaking news and sparks in the media, it was declared that one of the two main suspects had been shot dead during a chase, while the other had been taken in custody.

These two suspects were the Tsarnaev brothers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar. With the first dead, the entire media and prosecution attention shifted to the brothers’ background and Dzhokhar as the main suspect in yet another US based alleged terrorist attack.

Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were two young Muslims of Chechen origin who had moved with their family from Kyrgyzstan to Dagestan and in 2002 to the United States, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. While Tamerlan was a declared devout Muslim, his brother, Dzhokhar, seemed to be, by all accounts, simply looking up to his sibling and thus under his influence. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) who overtook the investigation, both Tsarnaev brothers were motivated by extremist Islamic beliefs, yet neither was connected to any known terrorist group.

Dzhokhar later confirmed this allegation by stating that they had been operating independently and that their motivation had been solely the defending of Islam from US interference. Consequently, he referred to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars conducted by the US and a CBS report came to reveal that Dzhokhar had written a note inside the boat were the explosive devices had been hidden: they “had been retribution for US military action in Afghanistan and Iraq” and the victims had been collateral damage in the same way the innocent victims had been collateral damage in the US led wars.

Nonetheless, at the time Dzhokhar also stated that his brother had only recently recruited him to help and that Tamerlan had been the brain behind the bombings. In the grim light of this statement, some argued that Islamist pledges only came second to the Tamerlan’s inability to adapt to the American society, his former criminal record and his Chechen background.

And while nothing can erase the fact that 3 people died and more than 260 were injured, all allegations that Tamerlan had been the driving force behind the Boston bombings have been used in favour of his younger brother, Dzhokhar.

The prosecution of young Dzhokhar officially began on April 23, 2013. He is being trialed in the federal criminal court system, with the defense attorney Judy Clarke, member of the Federal Public Defender’s office, leading the defense team. A short chronology of the trial would include the first public court appearance made by Tsarnaev.

At the time he pleaded not guilty for all 30 charges that are held against him. After September 23, 2013, when the defense lawyers requested more time to prepare, it was September 24, 2014 when Judge George O’Toole ruled that the trial would begin on January 5, 2015. Such a delay was motivated by the fact that an enormous amount of evidence waited to be examined by both the defense and the prosecution.

A futile exercise as the defense argued that the overtly negative influence of the media over the possible jury was inevitable. And that under such circumstances any evidence of the young Tsarnaev’s unwilling implication in the Boston marathon bombing will be shred to pieces.

Even so, the trail started on March 4, 2014 with the opening statements of both the prosecution and the defense. Assistant US Attorney William Weinreb attempted to sketch Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as a soldier in a holy war against Americans and an equal participant in the planning and carrying out of the twin bombings.

The defense attorney Jude Clarke did underline the guilt of the defendant in placing the second bomb at the finish line among many other charges that are being brought to her client. Yet she built upon the rhetoric of the US Attorney to highlight just how biased it can be, at the same time making a case for Tamerlan having been the driving force of the bombings, including through the strong influence he exercised on his brother.

With an overall of 90 witnesses brought forward by the prosecution and only 4 by the defense, the trial’s guilt phase was concluded on March 31, 2015.

Little after, on April 8, Tsarnaev was found guilty on all 30 counts, out of which 17 carry the possibility of the death penalty. And while the prosecutors are making the case for execution, the defense team is trying to offer Dzhokhar a life sentence without parole, thus saving him from the death penalty. In humanizing him and trying to mellow the ruthless and heartless terrorist label, Judy Clarke is practicing her belief in the chance and right to life.

She has been called the champion of opposition to capital punishment and it is believed that if Judy Clarke can’t save Dzhokhar Tsarnaev from the death penalty, nobody can. In the past, she has defended and saved some of the most well known murderers in the US. All the credit goes to her ability to humanize her clients and tell a story. Not a story of excuses, but of circumstances and forgiving.

We are still waiting to see how the events will unfold over the course of April 27, 2015 when the defense lawyers present their case. Hopefully, the anti-death penalty sentiment reflected in recent poll results and the team’s attempts to show Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as a misguided youth that needs protecting will convince the 12 jurors to be lenient, despite the brutal and emotionally challenging trial they have attended.

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