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The road to the death penalty for Tsarnaev

Photos played a major role in the government’s success in convincing jurors to unanimously approve the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. During the trial, prosecutors showed jurors a range of images to bolster their case that his terrorist crimes exposed so many people to grave harm and were particularly heinous and cruel.

The defense team also showed jurors a wide array of photos to try to humanize -- and elicit compassion for -- the 21-year-old graduate of Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School. The jury’s decisive verdict Friday, however, suggests these were far less persuasive.

Below are 10 sets of images presented by both sides during the trial -- and the conclusions they hoped jurors would draw from them.


1. Prosecution: Tsarnaev deserves death because his crimes are especially depraved.

Celeste Corcoran lost both legs in the Boston Marathon bombings and her daughter Sydney nearly bled to death. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

In calling for the death penalty, prosecutors said Tsarnaev’s killings were particularly “heinous, cruel and depraved” and said they “involved serious physical abuse to the victim” -- one of the dozen aggravating factors cited by the government in the 24-page verdict form give to the jury. Prosecutors also cited as aggravating factors Tsarnaev’s putting large numbers of people at risk of grave injury in Boston and during the shootout in Watertown.

To that end, the jury heard from — and saw photos of — numerous survivors, including Celeste Corcoran, a mother of two from Lowell with two prosthetic legs. She described the unbearable pain she felt when her legs were ravaged, and the anguish of knowing her daughter nearly bled to death on Boylston Street.

Jurors saw disturbing images of BB pellets still left in the bodies of some survivors. Mark Fucarile lost one leg while also undergoing dozens of surgeries and remains unsure if his second leg can be saved. Jurors also saw X-ray photos of BB pellets that remain in his body, including throughout his legs. Doctors have not removed them because the procedure is not worth the risk.


Mark Fucarile’s legsDOJ

Jurors saw X-ray images from another survivor, Eric Whalley, who had a BB pellet enter through his eye. That pellet remains lodged in his brain.

Eric Whalley’s brain scanDOJ

2. Prosecution: Tsarnaev deserves death because he used a weapon of mass destruction at an iconic race that exposed so many people to his terrorism plan.

The crowd at the finish line.DOJ

Prosecutors said the death penalty was particularly warranted based on another aggravating factor -- that Tsarnaev’s bomb targeted an iconic athletic event that draws spectators from throughout the world. Jurors saw considerable video footage and images of a cheerful crowd turning into a war-like scene. The government also said another aggravating factor was the premeditated and planned nature of Tsarnaev’s crimes.

By choosing the Marathon, prosecutors said, Tsarnaev brought death and injury to a crowded place that was “especially susceptible to the act and effects of terrorism.

Three people died at the Marathon that day and some 260 were injured, including 17 who lost limbs.

One disturbing image in the hours after the blasts was an empty stroller left behind on the debris-covered Boylston Street. Steve Woolfenden told jurors he had brought his 3-year-old son, Leo, in the stroller to watch the Marathon, in which his wife was running. In the chaos after the blasts, the father and boy were diverted to different hospitals. Woolfendon lost a leg, and his son suffered a head wound, though he later largely recovered.


United States Attorney's office

3. Prosecution: Tsarnaev deserves death because he killed a cop in the line of duty.

Sean CollierDOJ/United States Attorney's office

Another aggravating factor cited by the government was Tsarnaev’s participation in the killing of MIT police officer Sean Collier, “a law enforcement officer who was engaged in the performance of his official duties at the time of his death.” Jurors heard Collier’s stepfather and brother testify about his boyhood wish to become a police officer, and his strong moral compass in life.

Collier’s family also testified about the family’s heartbreak, which was evocative of how Tsarnaev’s crimes profoundly ruptured the relationships of so many families. Collier’s stepfather testified that Sean’s mother could not get out of bed for two months after he was murdered. Sean’s brother, Andrew Collier, told jurors, “I miss him. I miss everything about him.”

The jury ultimately agreed with those aggravating factors related to Collier, however in its final analysis did not vote to give Tsarnaev the death penalty based on the officer’s death. They voted to give him capital punishment due to his role in killing Boston University student Lingzi Lu and 8-year-old Martin Richard, whose deaths were directly linked to the bomb Tsarnaev placed outside the Forum Restaurant.

Collier family photoDOJ

4. Prosecution: Tsarnaev deserves death because he has shown no remorse.

DOJ via Getty Images

The government said, “Dzhokhar Tsarnaev demonstrated a lack of remorse” and cited that as another aggravating factor supporting the death penalty. In her opening statement in the penalty phase, prosecutor Nadine Pellegrini showed this photo of Tsarnaev making a profane gesture with his middle finger while awaiting his arraignment in July 2013 inside a courthouse cell.


The defense ultimately had the jury see a video showing Tsarnaev’s actions in the cell that day, including him making another gesture, possibly playfully, in front of the camera, and apparently straightening his hair using the camera lens as a mirror. Still, the government insisted this showed Tsarnaev at his worst, an unrepetant killer who had the audacity to display such disrespect to federal authorities guarding him.

Prosecutors also showed a photo of Tsarnaev buying milk at Whole Foods, within a half-hour of the bombs exploding at the marathon, to demonstrate his lack of remorse.

Tsarnaev buying milk.DOJ

5. Prosecution: Tsarnaev deserves death because he killed an especially vulnerable individual.

This image captured Tsarnaev (at right) behind the Richard family before the explosion.DOJ

The government’s death penalty argument also focuses on 8-year-old Martin Richard who died in the blasts.

The verdict form asks jurors to consider whether “Dzhokhar is responsible for the death of a victim, Martin Richard, who was particularly vulnerable due to youth.” The “vulnerability” of a victim is one of the aggravating factors on the government’s list. By statute, a victim can be considered vulnerable if he or she is, among other factors, very young, very old, or disabled.

The government provided evidence that children were more likely to be killed by the bombs, which erupted at ground level, because their shorter stature puts their vital internal organs closer to the ground.


1. Defense: Tsarnaev should get life in prison, not death, because he fell under the sway of a domineering older brother.


Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev

Defense lawyers tried but failed to convince jurors that Tamerlan Tsarnaev -- the defendant’s older brother who died in a shoot-out with Watertown police -- was the mastermind of the bombing, and Tsarnaev should be held far less culpable. They tried to show Tamerlan brainwashed his younger brother to participate in the bombing.

Five of the 21 mitigating factors cited by the defense related to Tamerlan’s dominance in the relationship, including that “Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s brother Tamerlan planned, led, and directed the Marathon bombing.” Each garnered at most three out of 12 votes by the jury. (The verdict form allows jurors to indicate how many of them agreed with a mitigating factor; however, when it comes to the government’s aggravating factors, jurors have to be unanimous or the factor is considered rejected. )

The defense team introduced numerous witnesses and showed many photos depicting Tamerlan as the violent, radicalizing influence in Tsarnaev’s life. Former friends and coaches talked about how Tamerlan traded his dreams of becoming a national boxing champion for being a jihadist on behalf of oppressed Muslims. Friends of his widow and others talked about his rapid transformation from a party-loving drug user to a Muslim extremist.

This photo, shown to jurors, depicts Tamerlan happily displaying a gun during his six-month trip to Dagestan and southern Russia in 2012, about a year before the bombings.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev

2. Defense: Tsarnaev should get life in prison, not death, because he was largely a good k

id through most of his life.

Photos of Tsarnaev on the wrestling team.Federal Public Defender Office

The defense team has consistently depicted Tsarnaev’s participation in the bombing and its aftermath as out of character. Another mitigating factor, they said, was Tsarnaev’s age. He “was 19 years old at the time of the offenses,” they said, and his lawyers noted, barely over the legal adult age of 18. Another mitigating factor, they said, was that he had “no prior history of violent behavior.”

The positive reviews of Tsarnaev when he was a student in the Cambridge public school system also was part of the defense’s mitigation case. Five of the mitigating factors related to teachers, friends or relatives having fond and warm memories of Tsarnaev, now 21, while growing up.

On these points, the jury seemed divided, though most voted that they agreed Tsarnaev was well thought of in the past.

A young Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.Federal Public Defender Office

3. Defense: Tsarnaev should get life in prison, not death, because he came from a troubled family with parents who largely neglected him.

A Tsarnaev family photo.Federal Public Defender Office

Jurors unanimously found that Tsarnaev’s father, Anzor, had mental illness and brain damage, but they showed little support for the idea that Tsarnaev’s often-chaotic family could be blamed for his criminal behavior. During the trial, the defense argued that Tsarnaev, the youngest of four children, fell through the cracks and was largely ignored by his troubled parents.

Though the jury never heard testimony about the mother’s mental health, they heard from numerous relatives and family friends describe her shocking transformation from a once-stylish cosmetologist to a head-covered devout Muslim wearing long black tops and skirts. Defense attorney Judy Clarke referred multiple times to the mother, Zubeidat, and her lack of “parenting skills.”

One of the mitigating factors related to the parents said, “Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was deprived of the stability and guidance he needed during his adolescence due to his mother’s emotional volatilitiy and religious extremism.” Only one juror agreed with that statement.

4. Defense: Tsarnaev should get life in prison, not death, because that is a reasonable, safe alternative that will guarantee he does not incite further violence or draw more attention.

“Supermax” federal prison in Colorado.Federal Public Defender Office

Two of the defense’s mitigating factors against the death penalty relate to its argument that Tsarnaev would be isolated and punished in prison for the rest of his life, making the death penalty unncessary.

Knowing jurors would likely want to punish Tsarnaev severely for his crimes and stop him from achieving any perceived martyrdom, the defense team emphasized the grim isolation of inmates at a “supermax” federal prison in Florence, Colo. and told jurors that Tsarnaev is likely to go there, as most high-profile convicted terrorists do. They repeatedly showed jurors photos of the prison.

Inmates in its most restrictive unit typically are in solitary confinement 23 hours a day, with limited vistation and communication, except from their lawyers.

But this argument about the bleakness of prison life wasn’t convincing to the jury. Only one juror agreed that prison would prevent him from inciting or commiting further acts of violence, and two jurors agreed that the “government has the power to severely restrict” his communication with the outside world while Tsarnaev is incarcerated.

5. Defense: Tsarnaev should get life in prison, not death, because he has shown remorse.

Sister Helen PrejeanAP

Jurors overwhelmingly rejected the idea that Tsarnaev was remorseful. Only two jurors voted in favor of the defense mitigator factor that Tsarnaev “has expressed sorrow and remorse for what he did and for the suffering he caused.”

On the last day of testimony, the defense lawyers pulled out a surprise witness, Sister Helen Prejean, a nationally known death penalty opponent who had visited Tsarnaev five times since March. Prejean testified that during her visits, Tsarnaev expressed regret for the suffering he had caused his victims.

Prosecutors later suggested, during closings, that Tsarnaev showed some sign of regret in what he wrote on the walls of the dry-docked boat where he was captured -- but it was a very limited regret, and did not disavow what he had done.

“Now I don’t like killing innocent people it is forbidden in Islam but due to said ... it is allowed,” he wrote on the boat.

Tsarnaev did not take the stand in his own defense, and the nun’s testimony was designed to address the government’s allegation that Tsarnaev, even if once a likeable child, had become an unrepetent killer.

Patricia Wen can be reached at wen@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @GlobePatty.