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Boston Bombing Jury To Hear More Testimony Before Sentencing Tsarnaev

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is back in court today. Prosecutors are expected to spend a second day presenting grueling testimony to show why Tsarnaev deserves the death penalty for his crimes. NPR's Tovia Smith was in court as the penalty phase began.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Prosecutors meant it to be a gut-wrenching day, and it was. Trying to convince jurors that Tsarnaev committed murder, quote, "in some of the cruelest ways imaginable," they called up victims to prove it. A woman who lost both her legs described pain so severe she wanted to die. The family of 29-year-old Krystle Campbell described their torment waiting for her at the hospital through 10 hours of surgery only to be told there had been a mistake - the patient was someone else and Krystle had died. Her father couldn't stop saying how much he adored the daughter he called princess, and jurors couldn't stop their tears. Then, prosecutors played video of the horrific carnage.

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SMITH: A survivor sobbed and had to look away as she heard her own wails and saw herself bleeding on the street. Another survivor watching said he found it all more disturbing than the first phase of trial and almost had to leave.

ROBERT BLOOM: This is like opening a wound and pouring salt in it.

SMITH: Robert Bloom is a professor at Boston College Law School. As grueling as it is to listen to all the suffering, he says, it may be even more painful for survivors to sit through next week when defense attorneys will try to show that Tsarnaev doesn't deserve death because he really was just a junior partner to his domineering older brother and a troubled kid who was sucked into the evil plot.

BLOOM: It is a tricky balance. Yeah, it's going to look like excuses, but it's also an opportunity to show that this individual had some difficulties in his life.

SMITH: Earlier this week, some survivors, including the parents of 8-year-old Martin Richard, who was killed, said they would prefer to see Tsarnaev get life rather than death. They say the years of appeals that would follow a death sentence would only prolong their agony. Prosecutors are not expected to call the Richards in this phase of trial, and victims aren't supposed to give their opinions on sentencing anyway. But Suffolk University law professor Rosanna Cavallaro says there are ways defense attorneys might hint at it. And it could be a big factor for jurors if they do find out the Richard family opposes the death penalty.

ROSANNA CAVALLARO: They have this extraordinary moral authority and to then say, don't do it in our name - if you're thinking of doing it, don't do it in our name, cannot, I think, help but be extraordinarily powerful.

SMITH: On the other hand, Cavallaro says, jurors often want to hear a defendant express remorse before they're willing to show any leniency. In this case, Tsarnaev has shown nothing, so it's unlikely his attorneys will put him on the stand.

CAVALLARO: Given the way he has behaved in the courtroom to date - that is, a very flat demeanor, the lack of emotion, the lack of eye contact with people who are describing these horrors - it's hard to imagine that he would then suddenly become this person who describes remorse. And if he doesn't, then they really should not call him.

SMITH: That leaves nothing so far to rebut prosecutors' characterizations of Tsarnaev as callous and indifferent to human life. He was dead set on becoming America's worst nightmare, they said, his heart was full of rage. Indeed, the most expression jurors saw yesterday from Tsarnaev was the picture prosecutors showed of him shortly after the attack in a holding cell, angrily raising his middle finger up at the security camera that was monitoring him. Tovia Smith, NPR News at the federal court in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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