Boston bombing victims react to Tsarnaev death sentence

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been sentenced to death for the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings that killed three. The federal jury chose to sentence the 21-year-old to death by lethal injection over life in prison without possibility of release. Judy Woodruff talks to Emily Rooney of WGBH to learn more about the reactions from victims and their families.

Read the Full Transcript


    The Boston Marathon bomber was sentenced to death today; 21-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was convicted by a federal jury last month of the April 2013 bombings that killed three bystanders near the finish line of the annual race.

    Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, later killed a policemen during a manhunt. The elder Tsarnaev died in a gun battle with police. The jury chose death over the only other option, life in prison without possibility of release.

    After the penalty was announced, the U.S. attorney who led the prosecution and a bombing victim spoke.

    CARMEN ORTIZ, U.S. Attorney, District of Massachusetts: Today, the jury has spoken, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will pay with his life for his crimes. Make no mistake. The defendant claimed to be acting on behalf of all Muslims. This wasn't a religious crime and it certainly doesn't reflect true Muslim beliefs. It was a political crime designed to intimidate and to coerce the United States.

  • KAREN BRASSARD, Boston Bombing Survivor:

    Today feels different only because it's — it is more complete, I guess, is how I'm going to say it. I know that there is still a long road ahead. There's going to be many, many, many more dates ahead, but right now it feels like we can take a breath.


    In a statement released shortly after sentencing, the attorney general, Loretta Lynch, said: "No verdict can heal the souls of those who lost loved ones, nor the minds and bodies of those who suffered life-changing injuries from this cowardly attack. But the ultimate penalty is a fitting punishment for this horrific crime."

    For more, we turn to Emily Rooney of WGBH-TV in Boston. She has been reporting on the trial throughout.

    Emily Rooney, you have been reporting on this trial. We want to — help us understand how the jurors were asked to reach this decision. They were asked to look at 12 different factors. Is that right?


    Well, it was a very complex jury slip, as they call it. It was 24 pages long. The first part of it was fairly simple. It was what they call gateway factors. Could they establish he was 18 years or older at the time of the crime?

    But it got more complicated, because, as the form went along, it aggregated. So, once you had determined something, then you had to add that and carry it through all the way. Then there were these aggregating factors, mitigating factors.

    But the key was, Judy, they only had to decide on one of the counts. All 12 jurors had to only agree on one of the counts if the death penalty were to be applied. It turns out they agreed on more than one, so it was automatic.


    Do you have a sense from having listened to the arguments during this entire sentencing phase of what the strongest arguments were?


    You know, I have to say I was incredibly impressed by both sides. The prosecution had the advantage of going first and then they had the advantage of going last. The defense came in between.

    You know, Judy Clarke, who argued for the defense, said, we will never know. There are answers that we will never have as to why Dzhokhar Tsarnaev did this, but she argued that he never would have done it had it not been for his older brother. On the other hand, you know, the prosecution argued that he had a conscience of his own, and we could tell by the things that he wrote inside that boat that night that he intended to do this.

    And the prosecution said one other thing to sort of I think mitigate people's concerns about he wanted to die a martyr. He said, he's not dying the way he wants to die. He's going to die the way he deserves to die.


    And we know that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, at least it has been reported, has throughout this trial shown very little emotion, little remorse about what happened. Is it believed — from talking to lawyers, is it believed that that makes a difference as jurors decide on the sentence?


    Well, as you can imagine, Judge George O'Toole, who presided over this trial, told the jurors specifically they could not take that into consideration. A defendant's demeanor, his actions in court had nothing to do with this.

    But it would be hard not to. The only emotion he showed at all was when, one, that his aunt from Russia was on the stand, and he wiped away a tear. He blew her a kiss. He didn't engage with any of the victims. I only saw him once when Jessica Kensky, who had lost both legs, rolled by him in a wheelchair. He took a quick glance to see her stumps poking out.

    I saw him once look over at the jury during the time that Judge George O'Toole was charging them. But, for the most part, Judy, he was laid back, he slumped in his chair, he pulled at his beard, he didn't look around the room, he wasn't curious who was there.

    We will never know whether his attorneys advised him to do that, advised him not to do that. They haven't said.


    And we just heard, Emily, from one of the family members of one of the victims. Is there — are you getting a sense of what the other relatives of the victims are saying after in reaction?


    We have gotten to know a lot of them fairly well, as you can imagine.

    There are some who are — nobody — nobody is celebrating. Nobody is throwing up the balloons, but there are people who are greatly, greatly relieved, like Liz Norden, who lost — whose lost two sons each lost a leg. She feels justice was served.

    We have heard from Michael Ward. You could still see the anger. He was seething as he took the podium for a few minutes. He, too, feels justice was served. There are other people, like the family of 8-year-old Martin Richard, who was in court today, but they did not want this. They wanted to move on and have him sentenced to life in prison because they didn't want a prolonged and protracted appeals court situation, which eventually we will have.


    And just quickly, I know you can't speak for an entire city, but is there a way of reflecting how Boston feels about this?


    It's very emotional for everybody.

    I unfortunately couldn't be there today, but the tension around this today was — and I think people felt like — you know, Judy Clarke said, well, he's going to die in jail. It just — it only matters how. And I think how he does die matters to everyone.

    And I think there's a lot of private feelings about this. Some people are expressing it openly, oh, he got what he deserved. Other people, I think, are just keeping it to themselves and feeling like the jury really didthe right thing.


    Emily Rooney with public station WGBH in Boston, we thank you.

Listen to this Segment