Boston bomber's life in the balance as trial enters home stretch

Reuters News
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Posted: May 11, 2015 7:03 AM

By Scott Malone

BOSTON (Reuters) - The Boston Marathon bombing trial heads into its final days on Monday with defense attorneys set to wrap up their argument that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be sentenced to life in prison, rather than death, for the murderous 2013 attack.

The federal jury last month found Tsarnaev guilty of killing three people and wounding 264 others with a pair of homemade bombs at the famed race's crowded finish line. For the past three weeks, jurors have heard testimony from prosecution and defense witnesses.

Prosecutors, who are seeking the death penalty, contend the 21-year-old ethnic Chechen was an adherent of al Qaeda's militant Islamic ideology who mounted the April 15, 2013 attack "to punish America" for U.S. military campaigns in Muslim lands.

Defense attorneys contend that he was a willing but secondary player in a scheme driven by his 26-year-old brother.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev died on April 19, 2013, following a gunfight with police that ended when Dzhokhar inadvertenly ran him over while speeding away from the scene in a stolen vehicle. Hours earlier, the pair had shot a university police officer to death as they prepared to flee Boston.

Last week, defense attorneys called witnesses, including Russian relatives of Tsarnaev who recalled him as a kind, loving child. They said they were fearful when Tamerlan and his mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, turned to militant Islam.

One of Tsarnaev's aunts, 64-year-old Patimat Suleimanova, was so overcome at the sight of her nephew sitting at the defense table in federal court in Boston that she began crying and was unable to testify.

In seven days of testimony, Tsarnaev's public defenders have called 43 witnesses. After the defense rests its case, prosecutors will have the opportunity to call a few more rebuttal witnesses before each side gives its closing statement.

Tsarnaev, who had been a college student with poor grades at the time of the attack, has not spoken on his own behalf and is not obligated to take the witness stand.

Martin Richard, 8, Chinese exchange student Lu Lingzi, 23, and restaurant manager Krystle Campbell, 29, died in the bombing. The Tsarnaev brothers shot dead Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier three days later.

During the guilt and sentencing phases of the trial, the jury heard from friends and relatives of all four people killed by the Tsarnaevs, as well as several people who lost limbs when shrapnel from two pressure-cooker bombs ripped through the crowd of spectators, volunteers and athletes at the marathon.

The jury has only two sentencing choices: death or life in prison without the possibility of release.

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)