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The latest on the Boston Marathon bombing trial: Defence says Tsarnaev was involved in attack

Boston Marathon bombing survivor Heather Abbott is helped from a bus outside federal court, Wednesday, March 4, 2015, in Boston, on the first day of the federal death penalty trial of bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Tsarnaev is charged with conspiring with his brother to place two bombs near the Boston Marathon finish line in April 2013, killing three and injuring 260 people.
Image Credit: (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
March 04, 2015 - 9:41 AM

BOSTON - A lawyer for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has begun her opening statement by admitting her client participated in the attacks.

Judy Clarke says: "It was him."

She says the only thing the defence disagrees with prosecutors about is "why."

Clarke calls the bombings a "series of senseless, horribly misguided acts carried out by two brothers."

But she portrayed brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev as the ringleader, saying he planned it and "enlisted his brother into these series of horrific acts." Tamerlan died in a shootout with police.

Clarke says: "The evidence will not establish and we will not argue that Tamerlan put a gun to Dzhokhar's head or that he forced him to join in the plan, but you will hear evidence about the kind of influence that this older brother had."

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10:20 A.M.

A prosecutor says Tsarnaev's motive for the Boston Marathon bombing was to reach paradise by claiming victory in a holy war against Americans.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William Weinreb said Wednesday in opening statements that Tsarnaev "acted like he didn't have a care in the world" after the bombings. He says Tsarnaev hung out with friends while victims learned their limbs would have to be cut off.

The prosecutor described how 8-year-old Martin Richard stood on a metal barrier with other children so he could see the runners. Weinreb says Martin's mother found him lying on the ground bleeding to death after the bombs exploded.

The victims watched somberly as Weinreb described the carnage. Several victims hung their heads and appeared to fight back tears.

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10 A.M.

Tsarnaev's trial has begun with opening statements from the prosecution.

Weinreb said Wednesday that Tsarnaev carried a bomb in a backpack.

The prosecutor says: "It was the type of bomb favoured by terrorists because it's designed to tear people apart and create a bloody spectacle."

Tsarnaev had no reaction and continued to look straight ahead — not at the jury, not at the prosecutor.

Weinreb continued: "The air was filled with the smell of burning sulfur and people's screams."

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9:45 A.M.

Jurors deciding Tsarnaev's fate have been sworn in and are listening to preliminary instructions from the judge.

Before the jury was brought in, Judge George O'Toole Jr. granted a prosecution motion to limit the amount of evidence the defence can present about the relationship between Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan, during the guilt phase of the trial. Tamerlan died during a gun battle with police days after the bombing.

O'Toole says some evidence of the brothers' interactions will be "inevitable," but most should be reserved for the second phase of the trial, when jurors will decide whether Tsarnaev receives the death penalty or spends the rest of his life in prison.

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9:20 A.M.

Tsarnaev is sitting alone at the defence table as his lawyers and prosecutors huddle at a sidebar with the judge. After a few moments, a member of his defence team goes to sit next to him.

Tsarnaev's hair is still untamed and curly, and he has a scraggly goatee. He's wearing a grey suit jacket and slacks.

The judge has formally denied the fourth change-of-venue motion filed Monday by the defence.

Tsarnaev's lawyers had acknowledged their three earlier requests were denied but said they wanted to complete the record of their opposition. They have argued their client couldn't get a fair trial in Massachusetts because of the publicity of the case and the proximity to the attacks.

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7:30 A.M.

Victims of the Boston Marathon bombing have arrived at court for opening statements in Tsarnaev's trial.

Two busloads of people hurt in the bombings arrived at the federal courthouse at 7:30 a.m. Monday. They entered through a side entrance, away from reporters and photographers gathered at the main entrance.

Marc Fucarile went in the front entrance but did not comment to reporters. He lost a leg in the attack.

Lawyers for Tsarnaev have made it clear they will try to show that he was influenced by his older brother, Tamerlan, who died following a shootout with police days after the bombings.

Prosecutors say Dzhokhar was an equal and willing participant in the plot that killed three and hurt more than 260.

 

TSARNAEV'S LAWYER ADMITS DEFENDENT CARRIED OUT BOSTON MARATHON BOMBING, BLAMES OLDER BROTHER

Denise Lavoie

BOSTON - Dzhokhar Tsarnaev went on trial for his life Wednesday in the Boston Marathon bombing with his own lawyer bluntly telling the jury he committed the crime. But she argued that he had fallen under the influence of his older brother.

"It WAS him," Judy Clarke, one of the nation's foremost death-penalty defence attorneys, said of Tsarnaev in a startling opening statement in the most closely watched terrorism trial in the U.S. since the Oklahoma City bombing nearly 20 years ago.

Laying out an argument aimed at saving Tsarnaev not from a guilty verdict but from the death penalty, Clarke said that the defence will not try to "sidestep" his involvement in the "senseless, horribly misguided acts carried out by two brothers."

"The evidence will not establish and we will not argue that Tamerlan put a gun to Dzhokhar's head or that he forced him to join in the plan," Clarke said, "but you will hear evidence about the kind of influence that this older brother had."

She began laying out her case after prosecutors sketched out the scene of horror at the marathon and accused Tsarnaev of cold-bloodedly planting a bomb designed to "tear people apart and create a bloody spectacle," and then hanging out with his college buddies as if nothing had happened.

"He believed that he was a soldier in a holy war against Americans," Assistant U.S. Attorney William Weinreb said. "He also believed that by winning that victory, he had taken a step toward reaching paradise. That was his motive for committing these crimes."

A shaggy-haired, goateed Tsarnaev, 21, slouched in his seat and looked at Weinreb as the prosecutor launched into his opening statement.

Three people were killed and more than 260 hurt when two pressure-cooker bombs exploded near the finish line seconds apart on April 15, 2013. Tsarnaev is accused of carrying out the attacks with his older brother, now dead.

About two dozen victims took up the entire left-hand side the courtroom, watching somberly as Weinreb described the carnage. Several hung their heads and appeared to fight back tears.

Weinreb said Tsarnaev carried a bomb in a backpack, and it was "the type of bombs favoured by terrorists because it's designed to tear people apart and create a bloody spectacle."

Sketching out the horrific scene on the streets after the two shrapnel-packed pressure-cooker bombs exploded, Weinreb said: "The air was filled with the smell of burning sulfur and people's screams."

The prosecutor described how 8-year-old Martin Richard stood on a metal barrier with other children so he could get a good view of the runners.

"The bomb tore large chunks of flesh out of Martin Richard," and the boy bled to death on the sidewalk as his mother looked on helplessly, Weinreb told the jury, with the boy's parents in the courtroom.

After the bombings, Tsarnaev "acted like he didn't have a care in the world," the prosecutor said. Weinreb said Tsarnaev went back to the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth and hung out with his friends.

"While victims of the bombing lay in the hospital and learned that they would have to have their limbs chopped off to save their lives, the defendant pretended that nothing had happened," Weinreb said.

Clarke, in an opening statement that took less than 20 minutes, ended by asking the jury to "hold your hearts and minds open" until the second phase of the trial, when the defence will try to save Tsarnaev's life by presenting evidene that could mitigate his guilt.

Among the victims in the courtroom was Heather Abbott, who lost a leg in the attack. None of the victims came in on crutches or in wheelchairs; all appeared to walk under their own power.

Tsarnaev's lawyers have made it clear they will try to show that at the time of the attack, Tsarnaev, then 19, looked up to his older brother, Tamerlan, 26, and was heavily influenced by him. They plan to portray Tamerlan as the mastermind of the attack. He died in a shootout with police days after the bombings.

But prosecutors say Dzhokhar was an equal participant who acted of his own free will. They contend the brothers — ethnic Chechens who arrived from Russia more than a decade ago — were driven by anger over U.S. wars in Muslim lands.

Tsarnaev faces 30 charges in the bombings and the shooting death days later of a police officer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Seventeen of the charges carry the possibility of the death penalty.

Tsarnaev's lawyers fought right up until the last minute to have the trial moved out of Massachusetts, arguing that the emotional impact of the bombings ran too deep and too many people had personal connections to the case. Their requests were rejected by Judge George O'Toole Jr. and a federal appeals court.

The panel of 10 women and eight men was chosen Tuesday after two long months of jury selection, interrupted repeatedly by snowstorms and the requests to move the trial.

The trial will be split into two phases — one to decide guilt or innocence, the other to determine punishment. If Tsarnaev is convicted, the jury will decide whether he gets life in prison or death.

The trial is expected to last three to four months.

Clarke, Tsarnaev's lawyer, has saved a string of high-profile clients from the death penalty, including Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph; Unabomber Ted Kaczynski; and Jared Loughner, the man who killed six people and gravely wounded then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in a 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona.

News from © The Associated Press, 2015
The Associated Press

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