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Marathon bombing trial to go to jury as defense rests

Tsarnaev team rests after it calls only 4 witnesses

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
Dzhokhar TsarnaevAP/File/Associated Press

After 15 days of victims recounting their injuries, experts testifying about explosives and terrorism, and witnesses detailing the deaths of three people in the Boston Marathon bombings, the defense team of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had its turn to make a case.

It was over in six hours.

Lawyers for Tsarnaev rested their case Tuesday after calling just four witnesses whose testimony fit the unfolding defense argument that Tsarnaev’s older brother, Tamerlan, was the mastermind of the April 15, 2013, bombings. The defense is expected to elaborate on that theory if the case moves to the second phase of the trial, when jurors would decide Tsarnaev’s sentence.

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“At this time, we rest,” said Judy Clarke, one of Tsarnaev’s attorneys.

Tsarnaev, 21, has already admitted through his lawyers that he took part in the bombings that killed three and injured hundreds. He and his older brother also killed MIT police Officer Sean Collier three days after the bombing and engaged police in a violent firefight in Watertown.

Tsarnaev faces 30 charges, 17 of which carry the possibility of the death penalty.

In its brief appearance Tuesday, the defense team focused the evidence on Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older brother who was killed after a shootout with police.

Mark Spencer, a digital forensics consultant who was hired by the defense team, told jurors that a review of the Tsarnaev brothers’ electronic devices shows that Tamerlan’s computer and a thumb drive that was never found seemed to be the source of much of the militant propaganda that was found on the devices.

The materials were transferred to other devices in early 2012, around the time Tamerlan Tsarnaev traveled to Russia.

Spencer also testified that he found a version of a jihadi magazine that was translated into Russian on Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s computer.

Elaina Graff, a forensics investigator for the FBI, told jurors that many of the items that investigators believe were used in the making of the bombs had Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s fingerprints on them, but not his younger brother’s. Those items included tape, a soldering gun, a glass jar containing nails, and a how-to book on wiring, and they were found in Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s Cambridge home.

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“They were all identified with Tamerlan Tsarnaev,” Graff testified.

A piece of cardboard and a piece of paper found in a shredded backpack at the scene of the first explosion near the Marathon finish line also had only Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s prints on them, Graff said.

George Vien, a former federal prosecutor who has been following the case closely, said the defense put on only those witnesses who could give testimony about Tsarnaev’s lack of culpability and said that could fit into the larger narrative that Tamerlan Tsarnaev played the dominant role and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a minor player.

“The brevity of the case isn’t surprising at all. What could the defense do? The law is that they can only put on evidence that might be relevant to guilt,” Vien said.

With the defense case concluded, US District Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. scheduled closing arguments for Monday and told jurors they might begin deliberating that day.

The judge asked jurors to refrain from talking about the case over the Easter weekend, reminding them that the trial has not concluded.

“It is imperative that you speak nothing of the case, including to yourself in the mirror,” the judge said to laughs from jurors.

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“People will want to know things; you can tell them nothing. Please.”

If Tsarnaev were to be found guilty, the same jury would then have to decide in a separate second phase of the trial whether he should be sentenced to death or to life in prison. Lawyers and prosecutors will again present evidence to make their cases.

But Tuesday’s closure of the first stage of the trial marks a milestone in the Boston Marathon bombings.

Testimony brought by federal prosecutors was sometimes graphic and heart-wrenching, but it was also interspersed with tales of dramatic responses by law enforcement officials and bystanders racing to treat the dozens of injured.

Jurors heard from William Richard of Dorchester, who testified that he chose to leave his gravely injured 8-year-old son, Martin, at the scene of the second explosion so that he could tend to his youngest child, Jane, who was also injured, while his wife, Denise, remained with Martin. Martin Richard died; his sister Jane lost a leg.

Jurors also heard from Sydney Corcoran, a teenager who described the white smoke and the thunderous blasts of the explosions. She had been at the race with her mother, Celeste, who lost both legs in the bombing.

Dun Meng described a harrowing 90-minute ride with the Tsarnaev brothers days after the explosions and minutes after they killed Collier on the MIT campus, when they carjacked Meng in his Mercedes.

And the world heard for the first time from Nate Harman, an MIT graduate student who described the chilling moment when he rode his bike through the campus in Cambridge and saw a strange man reaching into Collier’s police cruiser.

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He identified Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as the man he saw that night.

Clarke asked jurors during her opening statement to keep an open mind until the second phase of the trial, and defense lawyers have frequently used government witnesses to focus attention on Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

“Holding the questions that you have that can’t be answered in this phase, holding them open — your hearts and minds open until the second phase will not be an easy task,” Clarke told jurors in early March.

“It’s going to be a lot to ask of you to hold your minds and hearts open, but that is what we ask.”


Milton J. Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.