Prosecutor: Boston Bomber Tsarnaev 'Unconcerned, Unrepentant and Unchanged'

Runners continue to run towards the finish line of the Boston Marathon as an explosion erupts in this file photo exclusively licensed to Reuters by photographer Dan Lampariello, in Boston, Massachusetts, April 15, 2013. Dan Lampariello/Files/Reuters

BOSTON (Reuters) - Convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev aimed to terrorize people with his deadly 2013 attack, a U.S. prosecutor said on Tuesday as the government began making its case that he should be sentenced to death for the bombing and its aftermath.

Tsarnaev, a 21-year-old ethnic Chechen, was found guilty on April 8 of killing three people and injuring 264 at the marathon finish line and fatally shooting a police officer as he and his older brother, Tamerlan, prepared to flee three days later.

"Dzhokhar Tsarnaev murdered each one of them in a way that they had time to feel pain," said Nadine Pellegrini, an Assistant U.S. Attorney, in the prosecution's opening statement of the sentencing phase. "They had time to feel scared and frightened. But they had no time to say goodbye. That is the very essence of terror."

Pellegrini told the jury that prosecutors would spend some of the next week providing testimony about what Tsarnaev's victims were like and about the suffering endured by the 17 people who lost limbs to the twin homemade pressure-cooker bombs.

Federal prosecutors, citing al Qaeda materials found on Tsarnaev's laptop and a note in which he suggested the April 15, 2013 bombing was retribution for U.S. military campaigns in Muslim-dominated countries, have sought to paint him as a violent extremist.

But defense attorneys have countered that 26-year-old Tamerlan, who died following a gunfight with police hours after the officer's slaying, was the driving force, with Dzhokhar acting in a secondary role out of a sense of sibling loyalty.

Tsarnaev's lawyers opted to delay their opening statement until next week, when they are due to begin calling their own witnesses.


In an apparent effort to anticipate a likely defense argument, Pellegrini argued that Tsarnaev's actions could not be blamed on his brother or his troubled family.

"You may hear about family dynamics, family history, family dysfunction," Pellegrini said. "But many people, millions of people, I would venture, face troubles throughout their lives. Who among them murders people with a bomb?"

Pellegrini urged the jury not to give too much consideration to evidence from the guilt phase of the trial that suggested Tamerlan had downloaded radical materials before Dzhokhar.

"The origin of the lineage of terrorism doesn't matter," Pellegrini said. "What matters are his beliefs in terror, his actions."

U.S. District Judge George O'Toole had blocked the defense from introducing much evidence about Tamerlan in the trial's first phase, but legal experts said Tsarnaev's attorneys will likely have much freer rein in the sentencing phase.

That phase is expected to last about four weeks, after which the same jury that convicted Tsarnaev will decide between the death sentence or life in prison.

The idea of putting Tsarnaev to death is controversial in Boston. Massachusetts law does not allow for capital punishment, which is an option in this case because Tsarnaev was tried in federal court.

Opinion polls show more Boston-area residents oppose putting Tsarnaev to death than support it. Over the past week, several people whose family members were killed, or survivors who lost limbs, have spoken out against a death penalty.

Pellegrini ended by showing the jury a surveillance photo she said was taken of Tsarnaev while he waited in a holding cell on the day of his first court appearance in July 2013.

Courtroom sketch of the #Tsarnaev middle finger photo.

— WBUR Live (@wburLive) April 21, 2015

In the photo, Tsarnaev, then 19, grimaces and gestures at the camera with his middle finger, an obscene gesture.

"This is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev," Pellegrini said. "Unconcerned, unrepentant and unchanged."