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Sentencing Phase In Boston Marathon Bombing Trial Begins


Prosecutors began to make their case today for why convicted bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be sentenced to death. The same jury that convicted him will decide Tsarnaev's fate. NPR's Tovia Smith was in court and she joins us now.

And Tovia, I gather it was a very emotional day in court.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Absolutely. The prosecutor's goal now is to convince jurors that the death penalty is justified because of how cruel and depraved a crime this was and how much people suffered. And that's exactly what came across. The first witness, Celeste Corcoran, who lost both of her legs, she cried as she described the pain, so bad, she said, she wanted to die. There was horrific video of victims bleeding on the street, howling for help. And then the family of Krystle Campbell told their heartbreaking story about waiting outside of a hospital room giving doctors' permission to amputate her leg, only to find out after 10 hours that the patient was actually someone else and that their Crystal was dead. Her father couldn't stop saying how much he adored this daughter who he called Princess - never Krystle, always Princess. And jurors couldn't stop crying.

SIEGEL: And as the court heard these descriptions of the Boston Marathon bombing, what was Tsarnaev's reaction?

SMITH: Same as usual - nothing. His attorneys always make a point of showing respect for victims by facing them when they speak. Tsarnaev makes a point of looking away.

SIEGEL: And did the court hear from Tsarnaev's attorneys today?

SMITH: Not yet. They've chosen to wait a few days until the government's done and then they'll get started with their goal, which is to convince jurors that Tsarnaev doesn't deserve death because he was really just a follower and a troubled kid who was sucked into this evil plot by a domineering older brother. So today prosecutors tried to head that off at the pass. They told jurors, it doesn't matter who may have followed who, all that matters is that Tsarnaev believed in terrorism and that he killed. They seem to be trying to ease the weight that jurors may be feeling now by saying Tsarnaev sealed his own destiny with his own actions. They said his heart was full of rage, he was dead set on becoming America's worst nightmare just to make a political point. And then in this very dramatic move, they told jurors that after the bombing, Tsarnaev had one more message he wanted to send. And they flashed this picture of him in lockup sticking his middle finger out at the camera. They said, this is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the unrepentant killer.

SIEGEL: Now, looming over this sentencing trial are statements made by some victims recently that they actually don't want the death penalty for Tsarnaev, but would prefer that he get life in prison. Do those statements have any impact on this process?

SMITH: We'll see. Nothing yet, but it does complicate things for prosecutors who are unlikely now to call those victims, including the parents of the 8-year-old who was killed. They say they don't want to have to live through the death sentence appeal. That could take years. That would just prolong their pain. But there are also other victims who are equally adamant that justice demands nothing less than death.

SIEGEL: And what did you make of the reaction, or at least the visible reactions, of the jurors today?

SMITH: Well, as I said there were plenty of tears there, but the judge warned them specifically that sympathy for victims should not drive the decision. They should not try and guess what victims want. They got a long legal lesson on what aggravating and mitigating factors are, but the judge finished by telling jurors, this is not arithmetic. It's an individual moral judgment. He told jurors that, the law leads up to you.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Tovia.

SMITH: Thank you.

SIEGEL: NPR's Tovia Smith from Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tovia Smith is an award-winning NPR National Correspondent based in Boston, who's spent more than three decades covering news around New England and beyond.