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For Tsarnaev, a rhetorical question of guilt

Judy Clarke was midway through her closing statement Monday when she posed a rhetorical question.Jane Flavell Collins/AP

Judy Clarke, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's lawyer, was midway through her closing statement Monday when she posed a rhetorical question.

"What does any of this matter when we know that Dzhokhar walked down Boylston Street with a bomb in a backpack and put it down in front of the Forum restaurant?" she asked the jury.

The jurors must have been thinking the same thing. They were about to begin deliberations in the case of a 21-year-old defendant whose lawyers admit he did it.

"There is no excuse," Clarke told the jurors. "No one is trying to make one."

But then she kept making an excuse, that the only reason her client blew up the Boston Marathon, took part in the murder of a police officer, and threw bombs at police officers who cornered him was his brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev.


It was Tamerlan, Clarke said, who downloaded all that jihadi propaganda they found on Dzhokhar's devices; Tamerlan who did all the research for making the bombs; Tamerlan who bought components for the bombs; Tamerlan who made the bombs; Tamerlan who shot MIT police Officer Sean Collier to death; Tamerlan who shot at the cops in Watertown.

"We don't deny that Dzhokhar fully participated in the events," Clarke said. "But if not for Tamerlan, it would not have happened."

And if it weren't for Dzhokhar running him over, Tamerlan might still be alive and sitting right next to him at the defendant's table. But he's dead, no matter how much the defense tries to breathe him back into this case.

To hear Clarke tell it, in all that time Tamerlan was working himself into a jihadi lather and doing all the prep work for the bombings, Dzhokhar was just chillin' on Facebook.

"This is a kid doing kid things," she said. "A teenager doing teenager things."


Oh, and he didn't put the bomb behind all those kids, including the Richard children, to target them. He put it there, Clarke insisted, because of the tree on the sidewalk.

"He stops at the tree, not at the children," she said.

Before Clarke spoke, the prosecution's closing statement, in the person of Aloke Chakravarty, took almost an hour and a half to deliver. It was considerably less charitable toward Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

"The defendant brought terrorism to backyards and main streets," Chakravarty said. "He wanted to punish America for what it was doing to his people."

Chakravarty showed grisly photos and videos. A bystander's amateur video captured Krystle Campbell crying out in pain as she bled to death on the sidewalk. Another showed Bill Richard carrying his wounded 6-year-old daughter, Jane, while his wife, Denise, knelt over their dead 8-year-old son, Martin. It was horrific stuff.

But as devastating as Chakravarty's summation was, prosecutor Bill Weinreb's rebuttal of Clarke's closing statement was even sharper, maybe because of its brevity.

Weinreb said what Clarke was offering is not a defense. "It's an attempt to sidestep responsibility," he said.

Blaming Tamerlan was convenient but hardly plausible. Saddling Tamerlan with the lion's share of the blame is merely a distraction.

"They were full partners," Weinreb said. "They are equally guilty."

He scoffed at Clarke's claim about the tree.

"He was well aware those children were there," Weinreb said. "He was staring straight at them."

Weinreb pointed to the jihadi screed Dzhokhar left behind in the boat where he was captured to rebut Clarke's claim he wasn't a committed extremist.


"When he wrote that message in the boat he didn't have any books to crib from," he said.

Tamerlan didn't turn his little brother into a murderer. If you are willing to shred the bodies of other human beings with a bomb, Weinreb observed, you have to be different.

And, he asked, if you're callous enough to murder and maim men, women, and children, then go buy some milk at the Whole Foods in Cambridge a half-hour later, can you blame it on your brother?

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at