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At Boston bombing sentencing, Tsarnaev apologizes and victims address their attacker

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of two men responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing that killed three people, was formally sentenced to death today. In the courtroom, Tsarnaev apologized to the victims’ families, and said he was sorry for all the suffering he caused. Emily Rooney of WGBH was in the courtroom, and speaks with Gwen Ifill about the sentencing.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    During his unexpected statement in court today, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for the first time publicly acknowledged his role in the marathon bombings, and said he had since learned the names and faces of his victims. He also asked for forgiveness from Allah.

    After Judge George O'Toole formally sentenced him to death by lethal injection, some survivors told reporters they didn't consider his apology sincere.

    Lynn Julian suffered a traumatic brain injury and hearing loss after the bombing, and Henry Borgard still struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder.

  • LYNN JULIAN, Bombing Survivor:

    He threw in an apology to the survivors that seemed insincere and just thrown in because he was supposed to, and then ended again with Allah, talking about leniency, implying that we should now be lenient to him.

  • HENRY BORGARD, Bombing Survivor:

    I have forgiven him. I have come to a place of peace and I genuinely hope that he does as well. And for me to hear him say that he's sorry, that is enough for me.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    For more on the drama in the courtroom today, we turn to Emily Rooney of WGBH News, who was there.

    Emily, did that statement from Tsarnaev, the apology, did it come as a surprise?

  • EMILY ROONEY, WGBH:

    It did, Gwen. It came as a surprise to everybody.

    We had heard early this morning that there was a possibility it might happen. But it wasn't until his defense attorney, Judy Clarke, got up around 1:00 and said there's going to be an allocution. Well, an allocution could be anybody that is addressing the court. But we're thinking, well, who is going to do an allocution on the defense side? And sure enough it was him.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    In his statement, he didn't only acknowledge his own guilt, but his brother's. And that's not — that was not part of his defense obviously.

  • EMILY ROONEY:

    The statement was awkward. It looked like he was reading it. It was hard to tell. He was looking down. And it was very awkwardly phrased.

    But he said, in case there's any lingering doubt, it was me and my brother who did this. We are guilty.

    And so a lot of it was kind of poorly constructed. But many times, he spoke about the victims, getting to know them, getting their names, their faces, their ages. At one point, he said, I wish more of you had spoken, even though today there were 24 people who gave impact statements.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And we want to hear about that in moment.

    But I want to ask you another thing. The interesting about this for a lot of us, we have never heard his voice. We don't know what he sounds like. What was his bearing? What did he seem like to you?

  • EMILY ROONEY:

    Yes. That's really egregious, that the federal courts don't have cameras or at least recordings, although there is a recording. Maybe we can get ahold of it.

    He speaks with a thick Russian accent, which some of his friends had said in school and high school and college he didn't have an accent. He did. It was a very discernible Russian accent. He spoke very softly, but he was also a fair distance from the microphone, so it was hard to hear him.

    I wouldn't say it was an impassioned apology in any form or other. He's very — has a very somber demeanor anyway. That's the way he held himself in court the entire time. So, while he did apologize, he used the words, there was no passion behind it.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    So the emotions fell to the victims who were in court today and gave those impact statements you talked about. Tell me about those.

  • EMILY ROONEY:

    Yes.

    That was just a wow, Gwen. A number of the victims addressed him personally: You made a poor choice. You are a despicable human being.

    But a number of them chose not to address him, like Bill and Denise Richard. They stood together. They spoke of how he could have helped his brother. He could have backed away. He could have gotten out of the plan. Instead, he chose a path of hate, destruction and death and he said: We are choosing a path of kindness, love and forgiveness.

    And so — but some of the ones who spoke about how their lives have been so dramatically ruined, really, with post-traumatic stress disorder, deafness. A number of people spoke about the invisible victims, the ones who looked fine on the outside. You can see the ones who are walking into the courtroom with missing limbs, but who have had a lot of internal injuries, especially the loss of hearing. It was very emotional.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Was there any eye contact ever between Tsarnaev and any of these victims?

  • EMILY ROONEY:

    He made eye contact with two young men who were in the defense box. We have never seen them before. They were, I think, friends of his from either Cambridge Rindge and Latin or maybe UMass Dartmouth.

    But he was looking in the direction of the victims. Many times, he did his usual thing. He just looked down and he was fooling with a pencil, or pulling on his beard. But clearly his attorneys told him he had to turn his chair to the side, so he could look at them. He was sort of facing them. So, yes, occasionally he looked up, he saw who was speaking. But I wouldn't go so far as to say he made eye contact.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Now, we gather that some of the — for the prosecutor, as well as some of the victims, they didn't really see remorse in his statement today.

  • EMILY ROONEY:

    You know, I don't know what anybody was expecting.

    I think in some ways there were people who thought that there was a sincerity to it. He said it. He didn't have to say anything. His life is over. He's been sentenced. Going on saying nothing would have been the — I think it would have been disappointing, though.

    I think people wanted to hear something. They wanted to hear him. And if the apology wasn't impassioned, at least it was there.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Emily Rooney of WGBH News, who has been covering this for us, thank you very much.

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