The prosecutor in the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev told jurors Wednesday to remember those killed and wounded two years ago when deciding whether to sentence the Boston Marathon bomber to life in prison or death.
“His actions have earned him a sentence of death,” prosecutor Steve Mellin said in his closing argument. “The defendant knew what kind of hell was going to be unleashed.”
Mellin reminded jurors of the four people killed by Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Twenty-nine-year-old Krystle Campbell, 21-year-old Lingzi Lu and 8-year-old Martin Richard were killed two years ago on that sunny day when near-simultaneous bombs exploded on Boylston Street, causing destruction and chaos during one of the nation’s most celebrated events.
Sean Collier, a 27-year-old MIT security officer, was shot and killed by the Tsarnaev brothers during the subsequent manhunt.
“It’s hard to think of a better place to murder people than the Boston Marathon if you want to make a statement [that] you think Americans are in need of punishment,” Mellin said.
“Killing a police officer makes all of us more vulnerable,” the prosecutor added.
He especially cited the vulnerability of Martin Richard, who weighed less than 70 pounds. “Can there be anybody more vulnerable than a little boy next to a weapon of mass destruction?” Mellin asked.
“The defendant placed that bomb on the ground, so the smaller the victims were the more exposed they were to that shrapnel.”
The entire Richard family was standing there, with Martin’s mother, Denise Richard, suffering grave wounds and his younger sister, Jane, having one of her legs blown off.
“This defendant blinded their mother, maimed their 6-year-old daughter and blew apart their 8-year-old son in front of the father.”
A year before he died, Martin made a poster with the words “Peace” and “no more hurting people” for a school project. He was leaning against a barricade with a group of children on April 15, 2013, when he was literally torn apart by the homemade pressure cooker bomb that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev placed less than 4 feet behind him. Martin took the full brunt of the blast.
Tsarnaev’s lawyers had asked the judge to strike Martin’s death and its impact on his family from the factors jurors were to consider in deciding whether he deserves the death penalty.
But shortly before closing arguments in the trial’s penalty phase began, U.S. District Court Judge George O’Toole appeared to ignore the defense request when he gave the jury their instructions, telling them to consider Martin’s age and death.
In his closing, Mellin beat back at the defense portrayal of Tsarnaev as a good-natured kid who fell prey to his older brother and followed his orders.
“All murderers start out as cute children, but sometimes the cute children grow up to be bad people,” Mellin said. “Tamerlan Tsarnaev was not his brother’s master. They were partners in crime and brothers in arms.”
He concluded his argument by saying “a death sentence is not giving him what he wants. It’s giving him what he deserves.”
“After all of the damage and carnage and fear he has caused, the right decision is clear. The only sentence that will do justice in this case is the sentence of death.”
Tsarnaev, who is 21, was convicted in April of 30 counts; 17 of them carry a possible death sentence. He was found guilty of conspiring and detonating weapons of mass destruction at a public event as an act of terrorism resulting in death. His brother was killed in a shootout with police during the manhunt.
The same jury is to decide whether he gets life in prison or the death penalty. The defense is set to give its closing argument later Wednesday.
In arguing that jurors shouldn’t consider Martin’s age and death in deciding Tsarnaev’s fate, defense attorneys cited the fact that “the government called no witnesses and offered no evidence” concerning the impact of his death on his family.
The death penalty can’t be imposed, the defense argued, “based solely on the jurors’ inevitably strong feelings of sympathy and grief for a young murder victim or for his family.”
Because he was small and especially vulnerable to the effects of the blast, the boy’s death is a compelling aggravating factor supporting the death penalty in this case.
But Martin’s parents had asked prosecutors to take the death penalty off the table, and they did not participate in the penalty phase of the trial.
In an essay published in the Boston Globe, they said a death sentence would result in appeals for years to come that would force them to relive the day Martin died and his sister lost a leg — “the most painful day of our lives.”
Only after Tsarnaev is locked away and forgotten can they begin to “rebuild our lives and our family,” the Richards wrote.
Family members of the other victims — Krystle Campbell, Lingzi Lu and Sean Collier — all gave powerful victim impact testimony during the penalty phase, describing photos that showed young, vital people fully engaged in their lives.
In countering the defense motion, prosecutors said they presented plenty of evidence during the earlier guilt phase of the trial. Some of that evidence was heartbreaking. They summarized the testimony of the boy’s father, Bill Richard:
“A photo was entered into evidence showing the family watching the marathon from the location of the ice cream shop,” prosecutors said in their legal papers. “Bill Richard testified that to this day he can remember the flavor of ice cream his son had.”
After the bomb went off, knocking him into the street, Bill Richard “had to make the wrenching decision to either leave and get medical care for Jane, whose leg was blown off, or stay with Denise and Martin.”
The boy’s father testified he could see that his son’s body was “severely damaged” and knew “there was no chance that Martin would survive.”
Prosecutors also quoted another blast victim, Steven Woolfenden, who testified he could hear Denise Richard pleading with her injured son, “Please, Martin, please.”
“The injuries to Martin covered his entire body and were described as extraordinarily painful,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nadine Pellegrini wrote.
Jane Richard, who was 6, was placed in a medically induced coma, Pellegrini said. Each time she awoke, she asked where her brother was and her parents would have to tell her, yet again, that Martin had died.