As you know, I have been ensconced in the criminal justice system since the early 1980’s. One of the perks of being around so long, and being fairly successful, is that various media outlets often contact me to discuss some development in criminal justice. They know that I am a former prosecutor, have been a Boston criminal lawyer since 1990 and have handled several high profile cases. Last Friday, I was approached by various radio stations from Boston, Toronto and San Francisco.
They wanted to discuss the federal jury’s sentencing decision on the multi-murder case of convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (hereinafter, the “Defendant”).
In case you missed it, the jurors unanimously suggested that the Defendant be put to death. Reports on the verdict, as well as more analysis than you could possibly want, abound throughout the media. One such article printed just after the verdict can be found in the Boston Globe, Jurors Did Not Believe Sympathetic Narrative About Tsarnaev.
Opinions abound as to why the jury found as it did, especially since they did so much quicker than most people expected.
The “experts” indicate that it was, in large part, because the jurors did not accept that the Defendant was simply dominated by his older brother. They did not accept the sad tale of his family life. They also rejected the contention that the Defendant was remorseful.
“His lack of remorse sealed his fate,” said George Vien, a former veteran federal prosecutor in Boston with death-penalty expertise.
Maybe. But, then, didn’t somebody tell the jury that the Defendant was probably ordered to remain stoic and show no reaction by his lawyer? We’ve discussed that little detail in the past.
But I digress.
One can also play “read the jurors’ minds” by reviewing the verdict form. We now know how the jury panel answered various questions in their deliberations. For example, they all agreed that the Defendant intentionally placed the bombs which killed 8-year-old Martin Richard and Lingzi Lu, 23, a Boston University graduate student from China.
No surprise there. The defense had conceded as much.
While they were unanimous that aggravating factors trumped mitigating ones regarding those two deaths, they were not unanimous that the same was true as to the deaths of Krystle Campbell or the killing of MIT Police Officer Collier.
Various “experts” disagree as to why. However, the defense’s major argument that Tamerlan was the mastermind of the bombing — and that this explained the Defendant’s rapid slide into criminal behavior — received only three votes. On the other hand, the form seems to indicate that jurors were convinced that the Defendant was once a good kid who turned into a depraved terrorist… but that they lacked a believable explanation about how this evolved psychologically.
An interesting issue to which we will return in the future.
The defense attempted to cover that issue, apparently, by pointing to the Chechen heritage to explain that the Defendant may have felt subservient to his older brother. Clearly, that did not work because the jurors rejected blaming the older brother for influencing him. Further, prosecutors established, through the defense’ own witnesses that the Chechen culture has modernized considerably and that the Defendant’s own parents parents led the lives of rule-breaking mavericks.
As in most trials, inconsistency by witnesses can mean death in criminal trials. Both literally and figuratively.
The defense had listed 21 mitigating factors, most of which involved the influence of the Defendant’s brother and family, as well as his relationships with teachers, friends, and relatives. One also related to his youth — he was 19 when he took part in the bombings — and another was that he “had no prior history of violent behavior.”
As we now know, the jury was not swayed.
They, again, found for the prosecution.
Attorney Sam’s Take On The Verdict Of Death
Clearly, the jury felt that the harshest possible verdict was appropriate.
While there was some surprise that the verdict was reached so soon, I have heard no one opine that it was a “rushed job”.
These jurors have lived through this case, clearly paying very close attention and doing the very best they could to fulfill their oath as jurors. This was no callous blood-thirsty jury who felt they were wasting their time and that the authorities should just “string him up”. That was clear when one saw the emotion on the faces on the panel.
The images these people had to face had to have a tough impact on them. Having to decide whether another human being should be put to death must have been traumatic in itself.
There was a very unusual move by the defense in this matter which, on one hand, could have made the jurors’ job easier. The defense admitted guilt.
The fact that the defense essentially pleaded guilty at the start of the trial is likely to have long-lasting implications as this matter heads to higher courts for the Defendant’s appeal.
Tomorrow, we will discuss the reality of criminal appeals…especially in such a matter.
By the way, no, I did not forget my comment on Friday about inconsistency in the criminal justice system. We’ll get to it.