(BOSTON) — The defense team for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev made a stunning admission at the beginning of the accused Boston Marathon bomber’s trial Wednesday: “It was him.”
“We’re all going to come face to face with unbearable grief, loss and pain caused by a series of senseless, horribly misguided acts carried out by two brothers, 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his younger brother, 19-year-old Dzhokhar,” defense attorney Judy Clarke told the court. “We do not and will not at any point in this case sidestep or attempt to sidestep Dzhokhar’s responsibility for his actions. We think the question of ‘why’ is important.”
Clarke said it was that facet, the motive behind the deadly bombing, where the defense disagrees with the prosecution. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Clarke said, was the one “who self-radicalized” and the defense plans to show evidence that Dzhokhar was “enlisted” by his older brother. The defense team gave a hint of a similar potential strategy a year ago when they filed motions to obtain information the attorneys believed would show that between the brothers, Tamerlan was an “all-powerful force who could not be ignored or disobeyed.”
Earlier the judge seemed to strike a blow to such a defense, telling the court that whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is more or less culpable than his late brother is not relevant.
Dzhokhar has pleaded not guilty to the 30 counts against him, including charges of using a “weapon of mass destruction resulting in death.” The most serious of the charges could put him on death row if he’s convicted.
The trial comes just under two years after twin explosions ripped through the crowd near the finish line of the Boston Marathon in April 2013, killing three people – including an eight-year-old boy – and injuring some 260 others. More than a dozen of those injured lost limbs.
Prosecutors say Dzhokhar and his older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev were responsible for the death and destruction, and that the two were photographed dropping backpacks holding the bombs before the blasts. The city of Boston was paralyzed for days during an intense manhunt, during which the pair allegedly gunned down an MIT police officer.
Tamerlan was eventually killed in a shootout with police days after the attack in the Boston suburb of Watertown.
Dzhokhar was caught hours after that shootout, bloody and hiding in a dry-docked boat. While hiding, Tsarnaev penned an anti-American missive on the wall of the boat, saying, “The U.S. government is killing our innocent civilians, but most of you already know that.”
“We Muslims are one body. You kill one of us, you hurt [unintelligible] us all,” another section of the note read.
After opening statements, the prosecution will immediately force jurors to relive the emotional pain of the marathon attack. The first three dozen witnesses are expected to be bombing victims: amputees and others who were maimed along with the father of Martin Richard, the eight-year-old killed when Dzhokhar Tsarnaev allegedly planted a backpack containing a pressure cooker bomb at the boy’s feet. Their testimony will be followed by others impacted by the blasts, including Marathon organizers and business owners along Boylston Street where the finish line was.
While prosecutors focus today on Dzhokhar, authorities told ABC News they’re also investigating whether Tamerlan’s wife, Katherine Russell, knew of the deadly plot beforehand.
Russell is suspected of being the woman who accompanied Tsarnaev to a Macy’s in Boston two months before the April 2013 attack where the couple bought five pressure cookers – two of which were allegedly used to make the bombs placed at the marathon finish line. In an affidavit to search the Tsarnaev’s home, FBI agents said they were looking for clothing consistent with those seen on a security video at Macy’s.
Both lawyers for Russell and federal prosecutors declined to answer ABC News questions about Russell’s status, but a senior law enforcement official said she could face charges of misprision of a felony, or failing to notify authorities of a crime about to happen.
Days after Tamerlan was identified as one of the suspected bombers, Russell’s attorney, released a statement saying Russell was assisting the investigation into the bombing and was not aware of the plot beforehand.
“As a mother, a sister, a daughter, a wife, Katie deeply mourns the pain and loss to innocent victims, students, law enforcement officers, families and our community,” the attorney, Miriam Weizenbaum, said then.
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