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.


Tsarnaev, prosecution blood lust and the death penalty

April 1, 2015

I am opposed to the death penalty in all cases, no matter how egregious. I always have been. I oppose the death penalty for many reasons. Today, I’m going to talk about one of them with which most readers may be unfamiliar.

Trying a death case changes people, particularly prosecutors, and not for the better. I’m talking about prosecution blood lust and the desire to kill. Desire to kill the defendant, my client. The human being whose life I am desperately trying to save. I’ve seen prosecutors cheat to win by concealing exculpatory evidence and cutting secret deals with jailhouse snitches to reward them for falsely claiming that my client confessed to a murder he did not commit. I saw it on Monday morning when the prosecution attempted to bury Dzhokhar Tsarnaev beneath a mountain of blood soaked garments and ghastly autopsy photographs.

The prosecution went too far. The desire to arouse and inflame the passions of the jurors to kill Dzhokhar Tsarnaev prevailed over reason. The defense had admitted that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had committed the crimes charged. The prosecution did not need to literally wave Martin Richard’s bloody, sooty and melted clothes in front of the jury, but they did.

Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence (FRE) requires the trial judge to weigh the probative value of the evidence against its prejudicial value. When the prejudicial value substantially outweighs the probative value, the judge should exclude the evidence. Judge O’Toole admitted all of it and it was unnecessary.

The ruling is discretionary and will not be disturbed on appeal unless the judge manifestly abused his discretion.

In deciding whether a trial judge manifestly abused his discretion by admitting gory and grisly evidence, an appellate court will consider whether the evidence likely affected the verdict. That is, whether the verdict would have been different but for the evidence.

I think the answer is the error likely will not affect the verdict in the guilt/innocence phase. But I cannot confidently say that about a death verdict in the penalty phase.

I think this is another example of Judge O’Toole navigating perilously close to reversible error.

Just because the government has a slam dunk case does not mean that the court can ignore the rules of evidence on the ground that any error is necessarily harmless.

The government should not be permitted to strip the defendant naked and flog him in front of the jury.

That is what basically happened on Monday and it was wrong.

For more information on what happened Monday, please read my article, Tsarnaev: Government rests after presenting graphic and disturbing autopsy evidence.


Tsarnaevs: Why did they murder the innocent?

March 27, 2015

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev wrote a note in pencil on an interior wall of a trailered boat in which sought refuge after the Watertown shootout. He attempted to justify killing innocent people with the following words,

“The U.S. Government is killing our innocent civilians but most of you already know that. As a M [bullet hole] I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished, we Muslims are one body, you hurt one you hurt us all. …”

“Now I don’t like killing innocent people it is forbidden in Islam but due to said [bullet hole] it is allowed.”

He is wrong. The Prophet, whom he revers, prohibited killing the innocent.

From the Islamic Supreme Council of America:

The Prophet sent the following message to his military leaders who were setting forth in the way of Jihād to stop hostile advances and defend Muslim territories:

Advance in the name of Allah, with Allah, on the pattern of the Messenger of Allah . That means do not kill the elderly, infants or children and women. Do not exceed the proper bounds. Gather your spoils and make peace, “and do good. Lo! Allah loveth those who do good.”

The Prophet passed by a woman who was killed and said, “She was not engaged in fighting.” The Prophet then sent to the Muslim leader Khālid ibn al-Walīd the following message, “The Prophet orders you not to kill women or servants.”

This was to show the reason in the prohibition of killing her was due to the fact she was not with the fighters. The inference here is “the reason we fight them, is because they fight us, not on the simple principle that they are disbelievers.” This is clear evidence the woman was not a fighter and the Prophet prohibited her killing. From the strong expression the Prophet made, going so far as to send a letter to his topmost military commander, we see how concerned he was to prevent any such incidents, and to insure that every single Muslim warrior was aware of the rules of combat.

The question arises here: when someone explodes a bomb or commits a suicide attack in a public place, how many innocent women, children and elderly people are killed? If for one woman’s death, the Prophet scolded his top general, Khālid ibn al-Walīd, what then about killing twenty, thirty or even hundreds of non-combatants, some of whom may even be Muslim?

Just as the Messenger of Allah forbade the killing of women and the young he forbade killing priests.

The first caliph Sayyidina Abū Bakr aš-Šiddīq’s commandment to the leader of the first Islamic military expedition after the Prophet was:

…No hermit should be molested…Only those should be killed who take up arms against you.

So we see from these various narrations of the Prophet ―and there are many more like them―that the Prophet prohibited the Muslims to fight anyone, Muslim or non-Muslim, even if they are unbelievers, if they are not transgressors against the security of the nation.

This shows that terrorist acts, in particular suicide attacks which kill indiscriminately, are utterly unacceptable forms of combat, even during valid combat authorized for defense of the nation.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev needs to come to an understanding that his God, whom he calls Allah, does not approve of what he and his brother did. He has an opportunity in this lifetime to atone for what he did, but he is running out of time. A good place to start is the penalty phase of his trial.

With not just his life, but his soul at stake, he must reject self-deception, own what he did and admit that it was wrong. His actions and his note are offensive to his God and he must admit that too and plead for mercy.

The prosecution will likely rest on Monday after the Medical Examiner, Dr. Jennifer Hammers, concludes her testimony about the deaths of Lu Lingzi, a graduate student from China and the child, 8-year-old Martin Richard. Court recessed yesterday for the weekend after Dr. Hammers concluded her graphic testimony about the death of Krystle Campbell, a restaurant manager from Medford, MA.

I am going to pray for him to find the light while there is still time.

I am also going to pray for the jurors because, despite the law that permits them to sentence him to death, no human should kill another.

Let us all pray for the victims whose lives changed forever the day the bombs exploded. May they find peace in this lifetime.


Tsarnaev: Terrorism expert links Tsarnaev’s message in the boat to al Qaeda produced files on Tsarnaev’s computer

March 24, 2015

The prosecution entered the homestretch of its case today against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev by calling Dr. Matthew Levitt to the stand. Levitt, who claims to be an expert on Islamist terrorism, is a senior fellow and director of the Stein Program on counterterrorism and intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He also is a professor and lecturer in International Relations and Strategic Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Dr. Levitt testified that al Qaeda initially encouraged people to travel to the mideast and join their organization to fight U.S. oppression of Muslims. Later, they reached out to those who could not travel to the mideast and encouraged them to join the cause by fighting at home. Death in service to Allah and Islam is good, if you do your jihad with “true intention” to get entry into highest levels of heaven, according to Anwar al Awlaki.

An example of fighting at home is provided by an article in Inspire, which had been downloaded to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s computer. The article provides instructions on how to make a bomb out of ordinary stuff in your mother’s kitchen. They detail how to build a pressure cooker bomb just like the ones the Tsarnaev brothers used.

Dr. Levitt also reviewed and sourced the statements that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev wrote on the wall of the boat to al Qaeda produced documents and audio files on his computer. Court recessed for the day before Dr. Levitt completed his testimony sourcing Tsarnaev’s note.

Not a good day for the defense.

Nevertheless, serious questions exist about the legitimacy of so-called terrorism experts, as this article in Salon explains.

Dr. Levitt finished testifying this morning. He admitted that someone could have put the content on his devices and also have harangued him and contributed to his radicalization.

That person would have been his brother, Tamerlan.

The cross of Dr. Levitt by David Bruck made these points that are relevant to Dzhokhar’s lesser role in the offense.

Bruck: you said there always has to be a “radicalizer” who encourages someone?

Levitt: yes, often a virtual one, online.

B: You weren’t asked to find a radicalizer in this case?

L: No.

B: You analyzed only the info you were given from #Tsarnaev’s drives? L: Yes

Bruck: your understanding was that you were to focus on the defendant and no one else?

Levitt: He’s the one on trial.


Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has a right to allocution

March 15, 2015

Various articles in the Huffington Post, the National Monitor and the International Business Times have discussed whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will testify during his trial.

I do not believe he will testify in the guilt/innocence phase or the penalty phase of his trial because that would open him up to cross examination, which he dares not risk. This does not mean, however, that he cannot speak to the jury. He has the right to allocution, which means he has the right to speak before sentence is pronounced. All defendants have this right.

In the first death penalty case that I tried, I had my client read a letter that he wrote to his daughter expressing regret for what he had done and for how that had affected their relationship. He broke down several times but eventually managed to get through it. The jury spared his life and several jurors told me afterward that they voted to spare his life because of his genuine tearful regret.

I am certain Judy Clarke and David Bruck have considered using allocution as a means for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to speak to the jury about sentencing without being cross examined. Whether the tactic will succeed depends on whether he genuinely expresses remorse and regret.

The keyword is ‘genuine.’ Anything less and he will almost certainly be sentenced to death.


Riveting testimony in the Boston Marathon bombing trial hurts Dzhokhar’s chance to avoid death penalty

March 13, 2015

During the past two days, the prosecution presented evidence about the murder of MIT police officer Sean Collier and the kidnapping of Dun Meng, a Chinese businessman, and his Mercedes vehicle by the Tsarnaev brothers.

The Boston Globe reports,

Dr. Renee Robinson, a state medical examiner, told jurors that the 26-year-old Collier was shot three times in the head, including once between the eyes, and three times in the hand, and he would have died instantly. Robinson said the shots were fired at close range, at least one with the muzzle pressed against his skin, based on the pattern of the bullet’s entry wound.

Two people were captured on campus security video approaching Collier’s vehicle from behind after he pulled over and stopped. They are visible leaving the scene from the same direction that they approached. The apparent motive for the murder was to steal his gun, but they were unsuccessful because it was locked in his holster. Police discovered that the holster had been damaged in an apparent effort to remove the gun.

Dun Meng, the Chinese businessman, testified about his encounter and escape from the Tsarnaevs. Here’s the Globe again,

Sitting at the edge of his seat, he described how he took several turns, and pulled his car to the side of the road on Brighton Avenue to send a text message to a friend. Suddenly, a sedan pulled up behind him quickly. A man stepped out of the passenger side of the car, approached his passenger side window and tapped. He asked him to lower the window. Deng thought he was going to ask for directions, but the man instead reached inside and opened the door, stepping inside his car.
“He pulled the gun to me, to my head,” Meng told jurors, describing how he thought he was being robbed. The man pulled out his magazine, to show he had bullets.

“I’m serious, don’t be stupid,” the man told him.

Then he said, “Do you know the Boston Marathon explosions? I did it, and I just killed a police officer in Cambridge.”

Meng identified Tamerlan Tsarnaev as the man with the gun. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was following behind them in a green Honda. He eventually parked the car and joined them sitting in the back seat behind Meng. Dzhokhar used Meng’s ATM card to withdraw $800. Meng escaped when they stopped at a Shell station for gas while Dzhokhar went inside to pay for the gas and Tamerlan was distracted fiddling with a GPS device.

Meng unbuckled his seatbelt with one hand and unlocked and opened the door with his other hand. He tumbled out onto the ground and took off in a crouching sprint across the street to a Mobil station where he called 911.

Police were able to find the Mercedes because it was equipped with a sophisticated GPS positioning system that located it precisely. The shootout ensued.

So far the evidence has shown Dzhokhar to be a willing participant and that is going to hurt his chance to beat the death penalty.


Since his lawyer admitted Tsarnaev’s guilt, why didn’t he plead guilty?

March 5, 2015

Since his lawyer, Judy Clarke, admitted Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s guilt during her opening statement yesterday in the Boston Marathon bombing trial, why didn’t he plead guilty?

Many people have been asking this question in comments to news stories and blogs. The answer is the defense offered to plead guilty, if the prosecution would agree to drop the death penalty. The prosecution refused, so the defense decided to use the guilt/innocence phase of the trial to introduce evidence that they believe mitigates or reduces his culpability for the bombings relative to his older brother Tamerlan, whom the defense claims was the principal instigator or moving force who came up with idea and put it into effect.

Mitigation is not a defense to the crimes charged. Mitigation is any evidence about the defendant and the crime he committed, including the exercise of mercy, that calls for a sentence of less than death. As a matter of law, for example, a person who conspires with another to commit a crime, is just as guilty as the person who actually commits the crime, even if he is not present when the crime is committed. Even if he is present, that does not mean that he deserves or will receive the same sentence.

There is no crime, no matter how offensive, heinous or depraved that automatically merits the death penalty. Instead, jurors have to weigh the evidence admitted in aggravation (i.e., evidence about the crime and the defendant’s prior criminal record of convictions) against the evidence admitted in mitigation and decide whether the evidence in aggravation so outweighs the evidence in mitigation that a sentence of death is merited.

Evidence about the crime committed can also qualify as evidence in mitigation. For example, in a multiple defendant case such as the Boston Marathon bombing case, a defendant’s minor or minimal role in comparison to a defendant who plays a major or supervisory role is definitely a mitigating factor. The defense wants to use the guilt/innocence phase of the trial to establish that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was the instigator, the committed jihadi who was the planner and the energetic force behind the scheme to detonate two IDEs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. They want to elicit evidence from prosecution witnesses, including law enforcement and his former friends testifying under oath that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a young, immature and rather typical American college kid who never would have involved himself in the crazy scheme but for his older brother who seduced him with tales of revolution, retribution and immortality in the service of God.

I have referred to this strategy as a ‘slow motion guilty plea.’ Dzhokhar has a Sixth Amendment right to go to trial, even if he is guilty. Guilty or innocent, every defendant in a criminal case has the right to force the government to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. What Judy Clarke said in opening statement is not evidence. The government still has the burden of proof. She believes that eliciting mitigating evidence by cross examination during the trial from witnesses testifying under oath will have greater impact than presenting the evidence in a penalty phase after the jury has decided the case. I agree because I have done this myself. In other words, timing matters.

I would never advise a client to plead guilty to a death penalty offense, unless the prosecution agreed to drop the death penalty. I believe it would be malpractice to do that.

Judy Clarke plans to use the trial to save his life.


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