22 April 2015


I have been a bit dubious of the prosecutors' (and the judge's) behavior at the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Boston bombing trial.

The case that is a slam dunk, Tsarnaev's defense team has conceded that he was one of the bombers, so the only issue in dispute is whether the sentence is life without parole or death, and I get the sense that the prosecutors are trying to push the envelope to get a death penalty, and the judge eager to allow them to do so.

This is depressing, because it is more important for the trial to be seen as scrupulously fair than it is to put a needle in has arm.

The latest, and far most concrete, example of this is the prosecutors (and the judge) have have gone a bit far with the showing a video of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev flipping off a security cam while in a holding cell:
The US Department of Justice has released an image of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev giving the finger to a security camera in his jail cell, a day after prosecutors showed it to jurors in the sentencing phase of his trial.

The image, taken three months after the April 2013 bombing in his holding cell at the federal courthouse, is one of the only public images of Tsarnaev since his arrest days after the bombing.

“This is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev – unconcerned, unrepentant and unchanged,” assistant US attorney Nadine Pellegrini on Tuesday told the jurors who will decide whether the 21-year-old former college student should be executed.

Tsarnaev’s lawyers on Wednesday sought to blunt the impact of a photo, placing it in context of his movements in the cell. They showed the jury video clips of him looking into the camera, apparently fixing his hair in the reflective glass, and then making a slightly angled, two-finger gesture similar to what teenagers often do playfully in selfies. Then he raised his middle finger at the camera.

In an apparent attempt to press the argument that Tsarnaev was a “kid” who was led astray by his big brother, defense attorney Miriam Conrad asked Assistant US Marshal Gary Oliveira if he knew how old Tsarnaev was at that time.

The witness said he didn’t.

“You don’t know that he was 19 years old?” Conrad asked.
I understand that the prosecution is required to show that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is a horrible and unrepentant person to get death.

But presenting a 19-year old flipping off a security cam to justify a death penalty?  That seems a bit much.

This serves no purpose but to inflame the jury, and the judge should not have allowed it.


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