Drawing Tears From Jurors, Tsarnaev Prosecution Rests

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Defense attorneys for admitted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev have begun presenting their case. They called their first witness on Monday, after the government brought its case against Tsarnaev to a dramatic close.

As they first walked into the courtroom Monday, jurors had reason to dread what was about to come. Having heard the medical examiner and seen the autopsy photos of bombing victim Krystle Campbell last week, jurors knew the government was going to do the same thing for fellow victims Lingzi Lu and Martin Richard.

"He's approximately 53 inches tall, 69-and-a-half pounds," answered the state's chief medical examiner, Henry Nields, to prosecutor Nadine Pelligrini's first question about 8-year-old Martin.

The government had added a witness at the last minute, a photographer, and tactically inserted her before its last witness, the medical examiner. That enabled prosecutors to show a photo from April 15, 2013, of Martin and his younger sister, his brother and his parents, with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev standing behind them. It was 2:48 p.m. and a minute separated the family from devastation and horror.

And then the prosecutors did something they had not done in the case of the other two fatal bombing victims. They carried a cardboard box to the witness stand. And from that box the medical examiner began to remove Martin's clothes, item by item.

First came the green Celtics jersey, torn and dark. Then came a Patriots T-shirt, stiffened and starched by the same dried blood. A shredded jacket emerged, with the same tears made by the shrapnel.

Next, said the medical examiner, was "a pair of either shorts or pants. It was difficult to say because of all the melted fabric."

One juror, a school worker and mother of four, turned sideways and shielded her face. The young house painter and father struggled to keep his composure. The legal secretary and the product developer for women's clothing cried.

The cause of death was "blast injuries of the torso and extremities," said the medical examiner. And the prosecutor had him testify for 51 minutes, in excruciating detail about each injury and the nails, the splinters of wood and metal, the black plastic that was found in Martin's tissue.

The level of questioning and the detail of the testimony seemed to go well beyond what was necessary and relevant to proving that the defendant had caused the victims to be maimed and killed. It represented what might be presented in the penalty phase, when the government is expected to lay out its case why Tsarnaev should receive the death penalty.

But the defense dare not stand and risk appearing callous to the jurors by objecting that the prosecution's tack was "inflammatory."

More jurors were crying. Stone-faced, the restaurant manager had pushed herself back into her chair like a driver braced for impact. She too gave way to her emotions.

"Was there any part of his body that was not injured?" asked the prosecutor.

On the far bench, Denise Richard leaned into her husband, almost motionless, save for her husband's arm reaching around her shoulder. Stoic. A couple of times bringing a tissue to her eyes. The last question from the prosecutor invoked one of the aggravating factors that can be used in seeking the death penalty. It's called "vulnerable victim."

"How old was Martin Richard?" Pelligrini asked.

Answer: "He was 8 years old."

Last line: "The government rests."

With that, the defense began its case. It called several witnesses and tried to use their testimony to scatter the dust of doubt over the prosecution's case.

Going forward the challenge for the defense seems more a mountain than a marathon.

This segment aired on March 31, 2015.

Headshot of David Boeri

David Boeri Senior Reporter
Now retired, David Boeri was a senior reporter at WBUR.



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