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In Closing Argument, Prosecutor Says Tsarnaev Wanted To 'Punish America'


Dramatic and emotional closing arguments today in the trial of the admitted Boston Marathon bomber Jahar Tsarnaev. NPR's Tovia Smith was in the court and joins us now. And, Tovia, prosecutors went first this morning. Describe what they had to say.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Well, they really painted a picture for jurors of Tsarnaev as this cold, calculating terrorist targeting innocent people, choosing this family event to maximize the terror, they said. He wanted to punish Americans and awaken other terrorists, the prosecutors said, because he and his brother felt they were these jihadi soldiers avenging the deaths of Muslims overseas. And the prosecutors reread the note that Tsarnaev left in the boat where he hid that basically said as much. He doesn't like killing innocent people, he wrote, but it's justified in this case. And the government's closing was also very dramatic, as you said. The prosecutors played a kind of slideshow of images of the violence set to this extremist Islamist music that Tsarnaev used to listen to - a really eerie juxtaposition. And they also flipped between images of before and after the attack - the pools of blood and severed limbs on the street, people screaming in pain, then back to images of Tsarnaev before, just looming with his bomb just behind these happy spectators at the marathon who didn't know what was about to hit them, including this 8-year-old boy who ended up killed, and then back again to the carnage. It was just chilling, really.

CORNISH: And this is all before a very packed courtroom - right? - including many survivors. How did they respond to this imagery?

SMITH: Some tears, some embraced each other. The father of that little boy was rubbing his eyes. A man who lost a leg sat right behind me, holding what's left of his leg in his wheelchair, often shaking his head side to side. And then when the defense was making its case, he was kind of, I would say, smirking with some disgust - or at least disapproval, I'd say.

CORNISH: Tovia, what did the defense argue? You've told us in the past that they've been trying to show that Jahar Tsarnaev played a smaller role than his older brother, but were they able to make that case today?

SMITH: They definitely tried. They're not disputing that he played a part - just how big a part. And they're hoping that will spare Tsarnaev the death penalty when it comes to sentencing. So the lawyer, Judy Clarke, started by calling the attack inexcusable and said Tsarnaev was ready to be held responsible. But then she went on to make the case that Jahar was just a follower and his brother was the real mastermind. If not for Tamerlan, she said, it wouldn't have happened. She must have said Tamerlan's name 100 time, while Jahar, who was 19 at the time - she referred to him as a kid or a teenager. She argued that Tamerlan bought the bomb parts, put them together, planned it all. And she said it was important for jurors to know that. But she couldn't quite drive home the point because that's about sentencing. She can't quite go there. So I'm not sure kind of how jurors made sense of that.

CORNISH: And prosecutors responded?

SMITH: They were all over it. They were kind of mocking the defense, trying to argue that the defendant is guilty but his brother is more guilty. That's not a defense, the prosecutors said. They said Tsarnaev's attorneys are just trying to dodge responsibility. Well, now it's with jurors tonight. They begin deliberations tomorrow morning.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Tovia Smith. Tovia, thank you.

SMITH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tovia Smith
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.