Tsarnaev admits guilt, apologizes and is sentenced to death UPDATED BELOW

June 24, 2015

Judge George O’Toole sentenced Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death today for his role in the Boston Marathon Bombing case. The sentence was not in doubt because he was obligated to formally sentence him to death, given the jury’s death verdict.

Victims who survived and family members of victims who died came to court today to speak at sentencing. Here is a sample of what they said,

Johanna Hantel:

“If have to crawl I am going to run every year. I will not let this sickening act take that away from me.”

Unknown Person:

“I came to the first two days of the trial…the defendant, he sat there blank. I realized, I’m alive, and he’s already dead.”

Krystle Campbell’s mother:

“The choices you made were despicable.”

Officer Sean Collier’s sister:

“I do not know the defendant, nor do I care to know him. He is a coward and a liar. He ran his own brother over with a car. He had no issues shooting mine in the head . . . he spit in the face of the American dream.”

Bill and Denise Richard:

“He chose hate. He chose destruction. He chose death . . . We choose love. We choose kindness. We choose peace. This is what makes us different than him. On the day he meets his maker, may he understand what he has done and may justice and peace be found.”

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev spoke for the first time during the trial.*

“Thank you, your honor….I would like to begin in the name of Allah . . . This is the blessed month of Ramadan, the month of mercy . . . the month to ask forgiveness. I ask forgiveness of Allah & to his creation . . . In trial more of victims given names and faces. All those on witness stand, I was listening. I was listening, I heard strength, patience, dignity. Id like to thank the jury. I would like to apologize to the victims and the survivors. I am sorry for the lives I have taken and the suffering I caused and the damage I’ve done. I have done irreparable damage. I ask Allah for mercy for me and for my brother . . . I pray to Allah to bestow his mercy on you . . . I pray for your relief, for your healing. For your well-being, for your health. Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the world. Thank you.”

*I composed his statement from reviewing hundreds of tweets from the courtroom as they were posted on twitter.

UPDATE: We now have a court transcript of his statement from the Boston Globe:

Thank you, your Honor, for giving me an opportunity to speak. I would like to begin in the name of Allah, the exalted and glorious, the most gracious, the most merciful, “Allah” among the most beautiful names. Any act that does not begin in the name of God is separate from goodness.

This is the blessed month of Ramadan, and it is the month of mercy from Allah to his creation, a month to ask forgiveness of Allah and of his creation, a month to express gratitude to Allah and to his creation. It’s the month of reconciliation, a month of patience, a month during which hearts change. Indeed, a month of many blessings.

The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said if you have not thanked the people, you have not thanked God. So I would like to first thank my attorneys, those who sit at this table, the table behind me, and many more behind the scenes. They have done much good for me, for my family. They made my life the last two years very easy. I cherish their company. They’re lovely companions. I thank you.

I would like to thank those who took time out of their daily lives to come and testify on my behalf despite the pressure. I’d like to thank the jury for their service, and the Court. The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said that if you do not — if you are not merciful to Allah’s creation, Allah will not be merciful to you, so I’d like to now apologize to the victims, to the survivors.

Immediately after the bombing, which I am guilty of — if there’s any lingering doubt about that, let there be no more. I did do it along with my brother — I learned of some of the victims. I learned their names, their faces, their age. And throughout this trial more of those victims were given names, more of those victims had faces, and they had burdened souls.

Now, all those who got up on that witness stand and that podium related to us — to me — I was listening — the suffering that was and the hardship that still is, with strength and with patience and with dignity. Now, Allah says in the Qur’an that no soul is burdened with more than it can bear, and you told us just how unbearable it was, how horrendous it was, this thing I put you through. And I know that you kept that much. I know that there isn’t enough time in the day for you to have related to us everything. I also wish that far more people had a chance to get up there, but I took them from you.

Now, I am sorry for the lives that I’ve taken, for the suffering that I’ve caused you, for the damage that I’ve done. Irreparable damage.

Now, I am a Muslim. My religion is Islam. The God I worship, besides whom there is no other God, is Allah. And I prayed for Allah to bestow his mercy upon the deceased, those affected in the bombing and their families. Allah says in the Qur’an that with every hardship there is relief. I pray for your relief, for your healing, for your well-being, for your strength.

I ask Allah to have mercy upon me and my brother and my family. I ask Allah to bestow his mercy upon those present here today. And Allah knows best those deserving of his mercy. And I ask Allah to have mercy upon the ummah of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. Amin. Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds.

Thank you.


Mitigation Investigation And Jury Sentencing In Death Penalty Cases

March 14, 2012

Ahem, and now back to our regularly scheduled program. That would be the law, in case you are keeping score. This article should be read in conjunction with my earlier article, Does A Seven-Year-Wait-Behind-Bars Violate The Sixth-Amendment Right To A Speedy Trial?

I practiced law in the State of Washington where a judge imposes the sentence in all criminal cases, except death penalty cases. In most cases, the sentencing occurs approximately 6 weeks after the defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty by a jury. During the 6-week period, the Probation Office prepares a presentence report for the sentencing judge and the defense prepares for the sentencing by conducting a mini-mitigation investigation and arranging to have a defense expert evaluate the client, if there is a possible mental illness or impaired functioning issue due to an underlying alcohol, drug, or sexual deviance problem.

Federal court works the same way.

Death penalty cases are different because the jury that heard the evidence and convicted the defendant also sentences the defendant. Jury sentencing, in other words.

In death penalty cases, the courts proceed to sentencing within a day or two after receiving the guilty verdict, rather than recess the trial for six weeks pending the sentencing hearing. Therefore, the mitigation investigation must take place before the trial starts, which is putting the cart before the horse since a mitigation investigation must necessarily proceed from the assumption that the client is guilty.

Picture this: Very few people can afford to retain counsel in a death penalty case. Therefore, almost all death penalty lawyers are private counsel appointed by the court and paid at public expense, or they are public defenders. With few exceptions, clients charged with a death penalty offense figure that a court appointed lawyer or public defender is not a ‘real’ lawyer. Clients typically presume the lawyer is really working for the prosecutor and does not give a damn about them or their case.

Okay, let me now introduce you to Mr. Hyde. He is charged with 5 rape-murders and the prosecution is seeking the death penalty. He claims he is innocent and he is convinced that you are lower than pond-scum, unfit to sleep with the dogs, and you are going to sell him out. Greet him with your brightest smile and explain that you need some information from him to get your mitigation investigator started.

And, for God’s sake, don’t forget to duck.

Now that you understand the importance of delay . . .

Judges are concerned that it would be practically impossible to reassemble the jury following a long break after it returns a guilty verdict in a death case and they are not going to sequester jurors for six weeks with nothing to do in order to prevent them from seeing or reading anything about the case and to assure that they show-up for the sentencing hearing. That would be too expensive and impossible to police. They know that most jurors want to get on with their lives and would resent and be distracted while facing a decision to sentence a defendant to death or life without parole. Some jurors might even run away to avoid making the decision or sicken and die from stress-related causes. Sending the police out to find missing jurors would waste time and divert overstretched resources. In addition, judges know that proceeding with less than 12 jurors would raise issues about whether the defendant’s right to trial by jury was compromised. Meanwhile, retaining alternate jurors for the duration of the trial and a 6-week continuance for a sentencing hearing is impractical.

Prosecutors like to shorten the break ‘to strike while the iron is hot,’ so to speak. That is, while the jurors are still emotionally affected by the horror of the crime and more likely to vote for the death penalty. Theoretically, however, death-penalty verdicts should not be vengeance based, right? How is that for an understatement?

Defense counsel always want to lengthen the break as much as possible hoping that the delay will cool tempers and increase the possibility that the jury will return a verdict of life without parole. The more extreme members of our select fraternity and sorority of life savers, would prefer the sentencing hearing be continued for ten or more years, if not indefinitely. I include myself in that select category, just so you know where I am coming from.

In reality, we are lucky if we get more than 48 hours before we have to face a stern and hostile jury. You do not know what constitutes a tough sell until you try to convince a jury to spare your client’s life.

Death penalty trials take a long time. In the cases that I tried, for example, jury selection averaged 3 weeks (attorney conducted voir dire of prospective jurors individually out of the presence of the other prospective jurors) and the evidentiary portion of the guilt phase lasted from 6 weeks (my shortest) to 9 months (my longest).

In practice, because the client’s life is at stake, the mitigation investigation in a death-penalty case is far more extensive and intensive compared to the ordinary case.

I say ‘ordinary’ because there is no comparison to the intensity of a death penalty trial.

Mitigation investigation begins with collecting all available documents concerning your client, starting with medical reports regarding the mother’s pregnancy and your client’s birth. Then we want all medical, school, military, employment, and institutional records concerning the client.

After assembling all available records, we identify, locate, and interview every living person who had a significant relationship with the client and every person for whom he performed a favor or did something nice that he did not have to do.

We are looking for evidence of what we call “a hole in the head.” That is, evidence of an organic brain disorder or injury that impaired functioning and might have caused or contributed to the commission of the crime or crimes with which the client is charged.

We are also looking for evidence that the client might have been abused sexually, psychologically, or physically as a child. As you might well imagine, clients and families often would rather die than open up and talk about that sort of deeply personal, embarrassing, and humiliating information to strangers. We often find that they so deeply suppress or spin memories of abuse to excuse the abuser that it practically takes a miracle to break through the denial and get at the truth. And we have to dig for that information without planting false memories.

We search until we find something.

Why?

Because we honor and never judge our clients, no matter what they have done in their lives, and we do everything possible within the boundaries of the law to save their lives.

We call it God’s work.

And most of the time the money we are paid for doing this work does not even cover our monthly overhead.


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