Boston Marathon bomber's lawyer urges jury to spare his life, says he was once 'a good kid'

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Defense attorneys for Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev made opening statements in the penalty phase of the trial Monday, arguing that jurors should spare the 21-year-old from the death penalty. (April 27)

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BOSTON — Defense lawyers for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev began making their case to spare his life by contrasting him with his older brother, a man they said was "consumed by jihad" and determined to drag his brother down his path to terrorism.

Attorney David Bruck told jurors that Dzhokhar was "a good kid" who was led astray by his increasingly fanatical brother, Tamerlan.

During the defense's opening statement on Monday, Bruck said there is no punishment Tsarnaev can get that would be equal to the suffering of the bombing victims. "There is no evening the scales," he said. "There is no point in trying to hurt him as he hurt because it can't be done."

Three people were killed and more than 260 were wounded when the Tsarnaev brothers set off two pressure-cooker bombs packed with shrapnel near the marathon's finish line on April 15, 2013.

The jury convicted Tsarnaev, 21, earlier this month of all 30 charges against him. During the trial, prosecutors called a long list of people who lost their legs or loved ones in the bombings.

Tsarnaev also was found guilty of killing a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer during the brothers' getaway attempt three days after the bombings. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed during a shootout with police hours later.

This stage of the trial will determine whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is executed, as prosecutors have demanded, or spends the rest of his life behind bars, the sentence Bruck urged the jury to impose.

"His legal case will be over for good, and no martyrdom, just years and years of punishment," the lawyer said. "All the while, society is protected."

Bruck focused heavily on Tamerlan, depicting him as a volatile figure who led the plot.

Bruck said Tamerlan was loud and aggressive, got into fights, failed at everything he did and never held a steady job, while Dzhokhar was a good student in high school, was loved by his teachers there, had many friends and never got in trouble.

Bruck said Dzhokhar started going downhill in college, when his parents divorced and returned to Russia, and he was left with Tamerlan as the de facto head of the family.

Bruck said the bombing would not have taken place if Tamerlan hadn't led the way.

Tamerlan went to Russia for six months in 2012 hoping to join jihadi fighters and returned to the U.S. even more radicalized, Bruck said.

Bruck said Dzhokhar grew up amid turmoil and instability. He was born in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan, then moved from place to place with his parents and siblings before settling in the U.S. in 2002 when he was 8, the attorney said.

The eight witnesses called by the defense Monday focused not on Dzhokhar but on Tamerlan — specifically, his aggressiveness and deepening fervor.

Loay Assaf, an imam, said that three months before the bombing, Tamerlan became furious and interrupted a prayer service at a local mosque after Assaf likened the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to the Prophet Muhammad. Assaf said Tamerlan took a "fighting stance" and began pointing at him and shouting.

"He said, 'You're a hypocrite,' insulting me with this," Assaf said.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev's mother-in-law, Judith Russell, testified that Tamerlan became increasingly strident about religion and the U.S. He talked about "this country's influence and harm to Islamic countries," she said.

Prosecutors painted Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as an unrepentant killer, showing the jury a photo of him giving the finger to the security camera in his jail cell three months after his arrest.

Bruck downplayed the gesture, saying Tsarnaev was just "acting like an immature 19-year-old."

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