From their assigned wooden seats in the courtroom, jurors in the death penalty trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev openly wept Wednesday as they listened to testimony about forever-changed family holidays, altered routines, and the ongoing mental anguish endured by those who lost — or nearly lost — a loved one in the Boston Marathon bombing and its aftermath.
“I miss him. I miss everything about him,” testified Andrew Collier, 27, the younger brother and look-alike of the late MIT police officer Sean Collier.
“Everybody’s been affected. My wife probably the worst,” said Joseph Rogers, Sean Collier’s stepfather.
“She was the family’s little Shirley Temple,” the father of the late Lingzi Lu said in a video of her memorial service played for jurors. “You are a beautiful girl. The pride of your parents.”
“I just grabbed her arms and wouldn’t let go,” said Eric Whalley, 67, recalling the moment he realized his severely wounded wife of more than 40 years, Ann, was still alive.
Shattered families, in various stages of healing, were a central theme of the prosecution’s case Wednesday as they tried to show that the 21-year-old Tsarnaev deserves to die for his premeditated act of cruelty and terrorism at the 2013 Boston Marathon.
On the second day of the penalty phase of the trial, the government also reintroduced a jail-cell photo of Tsarnaev taken a few months after the bombing, which shows him making a profane gesture to a surveillance camera.
Prosecutors told the judge that they are likely to finish their case on Thursday. The judge has told jurors the defense will probably begin its case on Monday, and they should expect three more weeks of testimony before they begin deliberating Tsarnaev’s sentence. The 12-member jury, with seven women and five men, must vote unanimously if Tsarnaev is to be sentenced to death; otherwise, he will be sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Wednesday’s session proved to be emotionally grueling. Jurors were introduced to the pre-bombing lives of several families. Courtroom monitors, for instance, flashed colorful photos of happier times, including Collier smiling at his police academy graduation, and Lu wearing Mickey Mouse ears.
But then relatives recounted the phone call, the urgent race to a Boston hospital, and the grim news that their loved one was injured, or dead. At one point, some five jurors wiped tears from their eyes, while others wore visible anguish on their faces.
Jurors appeared distraught when Adrianne Haslet-Davis, a ballroom dancer, testified about losing part of her left leg. She told jurors that her husband, who was injured in the bombing, has admitted himself to a veterans mental-health facility.
Jurors listened intently as Whalley, a retiree, spoke about losing vision in his eye that was struck by a ball bearing, and how he and his wife have each had at least a dozen surgeries.
Numerous jurors cried when Rogers testified about the moment he learned his beloved stepson, Sean Collier — the “moral compass” of the family who since childhood wanted to be a cop — had been shot. He testified about the family seeing Collier’s bullet-punctured face and bloodied body.
The jury was also clearly moved when Jinyan “Helen” Zhao, an aunt of Lu, talked about the family’s decision to bury her in Boston. She said most Chinese families cremate their loved ones, but Lu’s mother thought her daughter, a Boston University graduate student, loved Boston so much that she should remain here, even if not alive.
“How she died and why she died — it just felt like she was part of Boston, part of the city,” Zhao said. “[They] just felt she should be here.”
Zhao said that Lu’s parents had their daughter buried wearing a tiara and a pink, wedding-style dress, and included in her coffin a music box and some favorite books.
Zhao said Lu was the family’s only child, and her decision to come to Boston was something her parents struggled to accept. But once they did, they scraped together the money to send her to graduate school.
“I could tell she was really appreciative of what her parents did for her,’’ Zhao testified.
In an anecdote that brought laughter from jurors, Zhao recalled how Lu was a tiny woman with an appetite so large that she once consumed an entire apple pie, spoonful by spoonful.
“I wondered, ‘Is she going to finish the whole pie?’ And she did,’’ said Zhao, who spoke to Lu on a weekly basis.
The relatives’ testimony is part of the government’s effort to convince jurors that Tsarnaev, a former University of Massachusetts Dartmouth student, is a depraved terrorist who was sending an anti-American message when he and his older brother, Tamerlan, planted two homemade bombs near the Marathon finish line on April 15, 2013.
Tamerlan died a few days later during a shootout with police in Watertown, which followed Collier’s murder.
The bombs injured more than 260 people and killed three: Lu, Krystle Marie Campbell, 29, who grew up in Medford, and Martin Richard, 8, of Dorchester.
While jurors were visibly moved by Wednesday’s testimony, Tsarnaev wore a flat expression and didn’t not look at the witnesses, which has been his typical demeanor throughout the case.
To bolster its assertion from a prosecutor’s opening statement that Tsarnaev was “unconcerned, unrepentant, and unchanged” after the attack, the government solicited testimony from Gary Oliviera, who works with the US Marshals Service. He witnessed Tsarnaev making an obscene gesture to a surveillance camera while he awaited his arraignment in a courthouse jail cell in July 2013, and the image was introduced as evidence.
Defense attorney Miriam Conrad, however, introduced video footage from the cell, showing the moments before and after the profane gesture, and suggested to jurors that the action was just spontaneous juvenile behavior. The defense has maintained that Tsarnaev is a troubled young man who followed his brother’s deadly Jihadist mission.
The video shows Tsarnaev looking into the lens, while briefly fussing with his hair — Conrad suggested he was using the lens as a mirror. He then makes a “V” sign with his second and third fingers, then flips up his middle finger.
The imagery, however, is a potent symbol in the government’s case calling for the death penalty to Tsarnaev.
“Without remorse, he remains untouched by the grief and the loss that he caused,” assistant US Attorney Nadine Pellegrini told jurors during her opening statement Tuesday. “It is because of who Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is that the United States will return and ask you to find that the just and appropriate sentence for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is death.”