BOSTON – With one last chance to connect with the jury, lawyers for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are expected to continue to portray him as an aimless college student who fell under the domineering influence of his radicalized older brother.
But prosecutors are sure to remind the jury of the brutality of the attack, the people who were maimed or killed, and the image of Tsarnaev standing behind 8-year-old Martin Richard and his family about a minute before the blasts. The boy was one of three people killed when Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan, placed two pressure-cooker bombs near the marathon finish line on April 15, 2013.
Closing arguments in the first phase of the trial are scheduled for Monday.
Tsarnaev's lawyer admitted he participated in the bombings during her opening statement to the jury. "It was him," said attorney Judy Clarke, a renowned death penalty lawyer.
But Clarke told the jury that it was Tamerlan Tsarnaev who was the mastermind of the attack. Clarke said the 26-year-old had become increasingly radicalized and enlisted Dzhokhar, then 19, to help him in an attack meant to retaliate against the U.S. for its actions in Muslim countries.
Legal analysts said they expect the defense to stick with a strategy of conceding guilt, but trying to persuade the jury that because Tsarnaev was not the driving force behind the attack, they should spare him from the death penalty and instead sentence him to life in prison during the second phase of the trial. The same jury will be asked to decide his punishment.
During the trial, the defense used its four witnesses to show that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had searched for bomb components on his computer, while Dzhokhar's computer activity focused largely on Facebook, a Russian version of Facebook and other social media sites. The defense also called an FBI fingerprint investigator who said Tamerlan's fingerprints were found on some of the bomb parts recovered at the scene of the marathon bombing while Dzhokhar's were not.
"They will continue to downplay his role and play up the role of his older brother, trying to create the impression that his older brother was the puppeteer and he was the puppet," said Christopher Dearborn, a professor at Suffolk University Law School.
"I don't think they have any hope of prevailing in the guilt phase, but their strategy will continue to be to gain some credibility with the jury by conceding what they had to concede and hoping to try to humanize the kid a little bit so that will carry over into the second phase of the trial," he said.
Prosecutors told the jury that Tsarnaev and his brother were partners in the attack. They called witnesses who described how he joined his brother at a New Hampshire firing range to practice shooting about a month before the marathon, had fireworks that had been emptied of their explosive powder in his dorm room and scrawled a message inside the boat he was captured in denouncing the U.S. for its wars in Muslim countries.
They also called survivors of the bombing who gave heart-wrenching testimony about having legs blown off in the explosions.
"I think the prosecution will remind the jury how horrendous this event was and they will further remind the jury that this fellow was a terrorist," said Boston College Law School professor Robert Bloom.
To rebut the defense claim that Dzhokhar was merely a follower of his brother, prosecutors also will likely remind the jury that he is shown in surveillance video and still photos carrying a backpack and then with the backpack at his feet on the sidewalk behind the Richard family as well as other children.
"The prosecution might say something to the effect of 'He didn't do as much as his brother, but he did plenty,'" Bloom said.