BOSTON (AP) — Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s life is on the line as his lawyers return to federal court to make their case that he should be spared the death penalty.
Tsarnaev’s defense team is set to begin presenting witnesses Monday in the penalty phase of his trial — the stage that will determine whether he is executed or spends the rest of his life behind bars.
Tsarnaev, 21, already has been convicted of 30 federal charges in the twin bombings that killed three spectators and injured more than 260 others near the marathon’s finish line on April 15, 2013. Seventeen of those charges carry the possibility of the death penalty.
Prosecutors are pushing for his execution. Their case in this second phase of the trial lasted just three days. Tsarnaev’s defense is expected to take up to two weeks.
His lawyers’ primary task will be to humanize Tsarnaev and undermine prosecutors’ depiction of him as a ruthless and heartless terrorist who placed a bomb just feet from a group of children and targeted the marathon for maximum bloodshed.
In the trial’s first phase, the defense tried to show that at the time of the attacks, Tsarnaev was a 19-year-old college student flunking out of school and heavily influenced by his radicalized older brother, Tamerlan, 26.
The defense likely is to continue emphasizing that theme, but may also focus on Tsarnaev’s seeming aimlessness to show that he did not appear to be motivated by political concerns and that his brother was the driving force behind the attack, aimed at punishing the US for its wars in Muslim countries.
The witness list has not been made public, but legal experts expect the defense to call family members and friends who will describe Tsarnaev as a well-behaved child who appeared to adjust well to his life in the US after moving here with his parents and siblings from Russia about a decade before the bombings.