Grisly testimony at Boston bombing trial as prosecutors rest

BOSTON, USA – US prosecutors rested their case Monday, March 30, in the trial of Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev after gruesome testimony about the death of the youngest victim left some jurors in tears.

Defense attorneys then began calling witnesses, trying to minimize the role of the 21-year-old Tsarnaev – who could face the death penalty if convicted – in the planning of the April 15, 2013 attack.

Three people were killed and 264 others wounded in the twin blasts at the city's marathon – the worst attack in the United States since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Prosecutors summoned 92 witnesses to the stand in the past four weeks, building a case against Tsarnaev as an active and willing participant in the bombings that ripped through crowds gathered near the race's finish line.

Their final witness was chief medical examiner Henry Nields, who recounted in graphic detail the injuries suffered by the youngest victim, eight-year-old Martin Richard, who was torn apart by one of the pressure-cooker bombs.

The child's blood-stained clothing was shown to jurors, some of whom were unable to hold back tears. The boy suffered a massive wound to the abdomen, along with burns.

"He was 8 years old," Nields reiterated.

Jurors also were shown photographs of the Richard family, standing on the race's sidelines in front of Tsarnaev.

Another photo showed the boy lying on the ground after the attacks, in which his younger sister Jane also lost a leg.

The boys' parents, Denise and Bill, were in the courtroom.

Another medical examiner, Katherine Lindstrom, told the court how Chinese student Lingzi Lu, 23, bled out on the sidewalk in only a few minutes. She showed photos of the woman's dire wounds.

Influenced by his brother?

At the start of the trial, defense lawyer Judy Clarke acknowledged that Tsarnaev – an American citizen of Chechen descent – and his elder brother Tamerlan were responsible for the carnage.

But Clarke put the bulk of the blame on the elder Tsarnaev, who was killed in a shootout with police following the blasts.

"It was Tamerlan Tsarnaev who self-radicalized. It was Dzhokhar who followed," Clarke said during opening statements.

Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty to 30 charges over the attacks, the murder of a police officer, a carjacking and the shootout with police while on the run. 

Seventeen of those charges carry the possibility of the death penalty under federal law.

During nearly four weeks of testimony, prosecutors painted the picture of a cold, callous killer – a marijuana-smoking, laid-back student who had recently failed a number of exams and become an avid reader of the Islamist literature that investigators found on his computer.

Jurors were shown a video of Tsarnaev casually buying milk just 30 minutes after the bombings.

They were also shown a message left by Tsarnaev inside a boat, the bolthole where he was arrested four days after the attacks, that appeared to justify the attacks by criticizing the US government over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But the defense painted a different picture – one of a younger brother who did not participate in purchasing the items needed to build the bombs.

Computer expert Gerry Grant told the court that when the pressure cookers for the bombs were being bought in Saugus on a night in January 2013, Tsarnaev's cell phone was emitting signals from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, dozens of miles away.

Also that night, Tsarnaev used his university meal card to eat on campus. 

But in cross-examination, federal prosecutor Aloke Chakravarty highlighted that the brothers had spoken for more than four minutes on the day the pressure cookers were purchased.

Tsarnaev's lawyers filed a motion for acquittal, citing lack of evidence.

Tsarnaev himself was hard to read in court, as he has been throughout the trial, with his head sometimes lowered as witnesses testified. He occasionally spoke with Clarke.

If Tsarnaev is found guilty, jurors will determine in a sentencing phase whether he will receive the death penalty or life in prison. – Brigitte Dusseau, AFP / Rappler.com