A Marathon bombing victim who had never fully shared his story in public took the stand in federal court Thursday, providing a dramatic endpoint to the prosecution’s case that the bombings were so heinous that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev deserves to be put to death.
At the moment the first bomb went off at the finish line, Steve Woolfenden was pushing his 3-year-old son in a jogging stroller outside the Forum restaurant, trying to navigate the thick and terrified crowd on Boylston Street.
Tsarnaev brushed by him, walking in the opposite direction, away from where Tsarnaev had just left a backpack containing a second bomb. And then it exploded.
Woolfenden frantically tried to protect his son, Leo, who was bleeding from his head. It took a few frenzied moments before he realized that his own leg had been blown off. Next to them, Denise Richard was tending to her 8-year-old son, Martin.
Woolfenden said he could see Martin’s face, and knew he was dying. He could hear Denise pleading, “Martin. Please.”
“I didn’t see a response,” Woolfenden told jurors in a quiet monotone. “I placed my hand on her back, and Denise turned to me for a moment, and asked if I was OK.”
Between his words, the courtroom was silent. Tsarnaev stared straight ahead.
Federal prosecutors used the moment Woolfenden described to rest their case Thursday, a moment that exhibited the horror of what happened at the finish line, and the humanity of two parents trying to save their children. “I was completely terrified, because I didn’t know if I was going to see my son again,” Woolfenden said.
His testimony echoed the horror described over the last six weeks by other Marathon victims, and emergency personnel, and the families of those killed.
Bill and Denise Richard, the parents of Martin, publicly said last week that they had asked federal prosecutors to take the death penalty off the table. They have not testified in the sentencing phase of the trial, which began this week. Bill Richard was a prosecution witness in the first part of Tsarnaev’s trial, in which jurors convicted Tsarnaev of all 30 charges he faced, including 17 that carry the possibility of the death penalty.
This week, jurors heard from the families of Tsarnaev’s other slain victims: Lingzi Lu, the bright and adventurous 23-year-old Boston University graduate student from China; 29-year-old Krystle Campbell, a loving daughter and sister from Medford who worked in the restaurant business; and 27-year-old Sean Collier, an MIT police officer who had fulfilled his lifelong dream to work in law enforcement.
Prosecutors have used the sentencing phase to focus on the lives of his victims, their family’s loss, and the altered lives of those who survived. Jurors heard from 17 witnesses over three days, including several bombing survivors who have rarely told their story publicly.
Heather Abbott, who wore a prosthetic leg with a platform shoe, described the moments after the bomb went off outside the Forum, which she was about to enter after attending a Red Sox game. She told jurors Thursday she was “catapulted” through the doors.
“I felt as though my foot was on fire, and I was in excruciating pain,” she said, recounting how she looked down at her foot and saw blood, but looked away so that she would not pass out. She crawled on her hands through glass and blood, deeper into the restaurant before someone helped carry her to the back.
At the hospital, doctors said her foot would have to be amputated.
“I would never be able to run again,” she said. “It was probably the hardest decision I would have to make.”
Marc Fucarile, who had a leg blown off, rolled to the witness stand in a wheelchair Thursday morning because a problem with his prosthetic leg makes it difficult to walk. He is set to undergo another surgery on May 5, after more than 60 surgeries so far. He takes more than 70 medications a day, he testified, and still has shrapnel in his body, including in his heart. Doctors determined it must have traveled there through one of his blood vessels.
Fucarile has nerve pain in his remaining leg, and he may face the life-changing decision of having that leg amputated, too. He has been undergoing treatment at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, which treats soldiers who have been injured in war zones.
Fucarile, 36, said he still lives in fear that he could succumb to his ongoing medical problems. “It could be anything from infection to death.”
Jurors also heard Thursday from David King, an acute care surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital and a trained combat surgeon who has served in the US Army for 14 years, including in Iraq. He told jurors that he treated several of the Marathon bombing victims, three immediately — including one he thought was going to die — and he knew right away that the injuries were caused by some type of improvised explosive device.
“The pattern of injuries was fairly predictable and typical of injuries I have seen hundreds of times from explosive devices,” he said, adding that other hospitals saw the same. “It was sadly, the theme of the day.”
King also told jurors that Martin Richard’s injuries were so severe because he was so small and so close to the bomb. Michelle Gamble, an FBI photographer, showed jurors a replica of a grate where Martin was standing, and estimated he was 3½ feet from the bomb.
Several relatives of Tsarnaev, who has family in southern Russia, arrived in Boston Thursday, according to a person familiar with the case.
It was unclear which members of Tsarnaev’s family are now in town, and whether any of them will be called to testify. In addition to having family in southern Russia, Tsarnaev has two sisters in New Jersey, and an uncle in Maryland. Tsarnaev’s parents — Anzor and Zubeidat — reportedly live in Dagestan. A spokesman for the State Police would not comment on whether any Tsarnaev family members arrived in Boston, but did say the mother did not come.
Tsarnaev’s defense attorneys will begin making their case next week, presenting what are known as “mitigating factors,” that they hope will convince jurors to spare his life. Already the lawyers have argued that Tsarnaev’s accomplice and older brother, Tamerlan, was the mastermind of the attacks, that he coerced an impressionable younger brother into helping him carry out the bombing. They pointed out that Tamerlan acquired the bomb parts and argued that he was the one who shot and killed Collier. And they said it was Tamerlan who then led police into a firefight in Watertown, where he was killed.
Prosecutors have presented “aggravating factors” that they say warrant the death penalty. They say the brothers were inspired by Al Qaeda and were equal partners in the attacks. They also say the attacks were preplanned, that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev knew that people could die, including children.
Woolfenden, who said he brought his 3-year-old son Leo to watch his wife and Leo’s mother, Amber, run in the Marathon, said he struggled to turn the stroller around and head in the opposite direction when the first bomb went off. Then the second one exploded.
“I just became extremely terrified,” he said. “My first instinct was to check on Leo.”
The boy had suffered a laceration and fracture to the head, and a perforated eardrum. A bystander, and then a police officer, helped Leo while other responders assisted Woolfenden.
In the ambulance, Woolfenden could hear another woman crying. He asked for her name. It was Gina DiMartino, who had been waiting for a family member to cross the finish line.
“I asked her to give me her hand,” he said, “because I wanted to hold someone’s hand.”
Milton J. Valencia can be reached at mvalencia