Two dramatically different portraits of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are expected to emerge when prosecutors and Tsarnaev’s lawyers give their opening statements at his federal death penalty trial.
Was he a submissive, adoring younger brother who only followed directions given by his older, radicalized brother? Or was he a willing, active participant in the attacks?
The trial that begins Wednesday is expected to be one of the most closely watched terror cases in years.
Tsarnaev’s lawyers have made it clear they will try to show that at the time of the bombings, 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 following a shootout with police days after the bombings.
But prosecutors say Dzhokhar was an equal participant who acted of his own free will. He faces 30 charges in the bombings and the fatal shooting days later of a police officer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Seventeen of the charges carry the possibility of the death penalty.
Three people were killed and more than 260 were hurt when twin bombs exploded near the finish line seconds apart on April 15, 2013.
Tsarnaev’s trial will be held in U.S. District Court in Boston under extremely tight security. During jury selection, dozens of police officers and federal security officers were stationed inside and outside the courthouse, armed U.S. Coast Guard boats patrolled Boston Harbor and a side street leading to the courthouse was blocked.
Tsarnaev’s lawyers fought right up until the last minute to have the trial moved outside of Massachusetts, arguing that the emotional impact of the bombings ran too deep in the state and too many people had personal connections to the case. Their requests were rejected by Judge George O’Toole Jr. and the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
A jury of 10 women and eight men were chosen Tuesday to hear the case. The trial will be split into two phases — one phase to decide guilt and the other to decide punishment. If Tsarnaev is convicted, the same jury will decide whether he’s sentenced to life in prison or death.
The trial is expected to last three to four months.
The list of witnesses remains sealed from public view, but among those expected to testify are first responders who treated the wounded, marathon spectators and victims who were badly injured in the explosions.
Assistant U.S. Attorney William Weinreb will lay out the prosecution’s case in opening statements.
Tsarnaev, Court Sketch