BOSTON – The life-or-death phase in the trial of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev got underway Tuesday with a prosecutor showing the jury a photo of Tsarnaev giving the finger to a security camera in his jail cell three months after the attack.
“This is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, unconcerned, unrepentant and unchanged,” Nadine Pellegrini told the jurors, who will decide whether the 21-year-old Tsarnaev should be executed.
“He had one more message to send,” the prosecutor said.
During the penalty phase, which is expected to last four weeks, prosecutors plan to call witnesses who lost legs or loved ones in the April 15, 2013, bombing near the finish line of the race.
Three people were killed and more than 260 wounded in the attack. And an MIT police officer was shot to death days later as Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, tried to get away.
With enlarged photographs of the victims behind her, Pellegrini said: “They were all beautiful, and they’re all now gone.” She described the killings as “unbearable, indescribable, inexcusable and senseless.”
“You know how they died. Now you need to know how they lived,” the prosecutor said. “You need to know and to understand why their lives mattered.”
Tsarnaev was convicted this month of all 30 charges against him during the trial’s guilt-or-innocence phase.
His lawyers, who will make the case for mercy once the prosecution has put on its witnesses, are expected to portray Tamerlan as the mastermind of the bombing. They say Tsarnaev does not deserve the death penalty because he was a 19-year-old who fell under the influence of his domineering brother.
The 12-member jury must be unanimous for Tsarnaev to receive a death sentence; otherwise, he will automatically get life behind bars.
Prosecutors contend Tsarnaev was a full partner with his brother in the bombing and deserves the ultimate punishment.
About a dozen people demonstrated against the death penalty outside the federal courthouse Tuesday morning.
Earlier this week, the parents of the youngest of those killed, 8-year-old Martin Richard, urged prosecutors in a front-page letter in The Boston Globe to take the death penalty off the table.
Also, Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes, a newlywed couple severely wounded in the bombing, said life in prison would be the best outcome to assure that Tsarnaev “disappears from our collective consciousness as soon as possible.”