Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was sentenced to death for helping detonate two bombs near the Boston Marathon finish line, in an attack that killed three, wounded hundreds and laid bare the threat of homegrown terrorism in post 9-11 America.
While a lengthy appeal is likely, the sentence closes the door on a trial marked by wrenching victim testimony describing the horror of the 2013 assault, and memories of the “sunny” boy Tsarnaev’s relatives said they knew long ago.
In the end, the defense’s bid to humanize Tsarnaev and pin the blame on his older brother Tamerlan failed. Jurors decided that life behind bars without chance of parole was too lenient for the Russian immigrant who became a citizen months before carrying out the worst U.S. terrorist attack since Sept. 11, 2001.
Tsarnaev stood as the verdict was being read, showing no emotion.
The verdict isn’t surprising, since Tsarnaev failed to show any remorse for a heinous act, said Barry Slotnick, a criminal defense lawyer in New York who isn’t involved in the case.
“He did not issue any statements during trial that he was sorry it happened, or that he shouldn’t have done it – nothing,” Slotnick said.
The penalty was announced Friday in Boston federal court by a unanimous jury of seven women and five men after about 14½ hours of deliberations. Tsarnaev, 21, was found guilty by the same panel in April after a trial in which his lawyers admitted to his role in the attack.
A male juror wept and wiped his eyes with a tissue after the verdict was read. Liz Norden, whose sons were maimed in the bombing, also wept. She had favored the death sentence.
If the sentence is carried out, Tsarnaev will be the fourth person put to death in a federal capital case since the penalty was reinstated in the U.S. in 1988. He would follow Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, a murderous drug dealer and a man who killed a female U.S. soldier, all of whom were executed by lethal injection at the federal death chamber in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Dzhokhar and Tamerlan used mobile phones to detonate two homemade bombs hidden in backpacks near the marathon finish line. Tamerlan died in a shootout with police after a massive manhunt in the days after the attack.
The bombing triggered speculation on how two young men who came to the U.S. at an early age could become so radicalized as to perpetrate a terrorist assault.
In the years since, more Americans have been caught up in recruitment efforts by the Islamic State network, also known as ISIS, to travel to the Middle East to fight and die. While many have been charged in FBI stings, others have been charged with actively seeking to join the group, and to carry out attacks at home.
Paths to radicalization have only increased since the marathon bombing, said Matthew Levitt, a former U.S. Treasury terrorism and financial intelligence official. He is now director of the counter-terrorism and intelligence program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“We’re finding there’s a particularly wide aperture right now for possible extremists -- many ways for people to become radicalized,” said Levitt, who testified for the prosecution during the trial’s guilt phase.
Prosecutors portrayed Tsarnaev as a self-radicalized terrorist who sought to kill out of anger toward U.S. foreign policy and its effect on Muslims. He declared his motives in pencil on the inside of a boat where he hid while police hunted him.
“The system worked,” said Peter White, a former federal prosecutor who isn’t involved in the case. “An unpopular and unsympathetic defendant was afforded excellent, zealous representation. And the jury sent a message that terrorism on our shores will be subject to the highest possible penalty under our laws.”