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Defense attorneys trying to save Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev from the death penalty are touting the austere fortress-like prison where he could be held if jurors sentence him to life without the chance of parole.
Judy Clarke's fierce battle against the death penalty on behalf of some of the most notorious killers has made her a national legal figure. But Monday she watched as the quiet man on the defense team, David Bruck, opened instead.
Clarke's friend from law school and her co-counsel in so many death penalty trials embodies earnestness.
"We have now seen more pain and more horror and more grief than any of you thought possible," he told the jurors.
He spoke so softly that save for the jury, many in the courtroom could not hear him.
He was direct, as he also placed the greatest culpability onto Tsarnaev's older brother.
"The man who conceived, planned and led these crimes is beyond our power. Only the 19-year-old younger brother is left." (Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is now 21.)
"No punishment could ever be equal to the terrible effects of Dhzokhar Tsarnaev's crimes," Bruck said. His words reflecting the dire prospects of the defendant, they amounted to a plea for his client's life.
"There is no evening of the scales," he said. "There is no point in trying to hurt him, because he hurt. Because it cannot be done."
Here, as if recognizing what must be offered as an alternative punishment to the jurors who had heard and seen so much, the defense now turned, almost as realtors selling a property, to touting the prison that has come to be known as the most austere, impregnable and punitive prison in America.
"If you sentence him, this is where he will be," said Bruck, and the monitors showed the jurors an aerial shot of "Supermax," the U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility. The harsh cold white winter landscape of Florence, Colorado, made it look like Siberia.
"This is where the government keeps other terrorists who used to be famous," Bruck said, "but aren't anymore," a reference to the promise and the reality of rock-hard solitary confinement that led a former warden to describe it as "a clean version of hell."
The likelihood of 23 hours a day in his bare cell alone, in a unit surrounded by mountains that he would never see, the only view a rectangle of sky directly overhead in the high-walled recreation yard, even then the precious sky framed by barbed wire.
Conversation at Supermax is generally restricted to only one 15-minute call a month to a relative.
Whatever Tsarnaev might be thinking as he looked on as impassively as ever, his defense attorney was offering the jurors an opportunity to give Tsarnaev a living punishment some might consider harsher than death.
Send him there, Bruck was saying, and "he can never hurt anymore or be heard from again. He goes there and he's forgotten. No more spotlight like the death penalty brings. No martyrdom ... There will be no autobiography, no nothing."
The first of the defense's witnesses included Judith Russell, the mother of Katherine Russell and the mother-in-law of Tamerlan Tsarnaev. She portrayed Tamerlan as the son-in-law from hell.
Katherine Russell's mother, as well as Katherine's best friend, both described the sharp change in Katherine's life that they assert was brought about under Tamerlan's charismatic hold. They spoke of Katherine's conversion to Islam practiced zealously and her working long hours as the sole support for their family while he went to Russia for six months. There, in the woods of Dagestan, the defense says, it will show that he planned jihad.
More defense witnesses will testify about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, but on this day Bruck had offered the jurors another course than imposing death.
"Years and years of punishment where [Dzhokhar Tsarnaev] lives to face the daily struggle of what he's done," he said.
With no way out of what might be the loneliest place on the planet.
This segment aired on April 28, 2015.
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