‘ I am sorry,’ the Bos­ton bomber tells his vic­tims

Dzhokhar Tsar­naev’s first state­ment comes at for­mal sen­tenc­ing.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Richard A. Ser­rano

BOS­TON — In a thick Rus­sian ac­cent — with his head bowed and body shak­ing — the man who ap­peared cold and emo­tion­less through­out his trial for bomb­ing the Bos­ton Marathon two years ago stood in fed­eral court Wed­nes­day and apol­o­gized for det­o­nat­ing one of two ex­plo­sives at the his­toric race.

Dzhokhar Tsar­naev, 21, stood ner­vously in a court­room packed with sur­vivors, jurors, lawyers and the fed­eral judge who would shortly there­after for­mally sen­tence him to death. He re­peat­edly in­voked his Mus­lim faith while telling vic­tims, “I am sorry for the lives I have taken, for the suf­fer­ing I have caused you, and for the ter­ri­ble dam­age I have done. Ir­repara­ble dam­age.”

He added, “If there is any lin­ger­ing doubt, let there be no more. I did do it along with my brother.” Of the bomb­ings, he said, “I am guilty.”

The words of ad­mis­sion and re­gret, the f irst he has ut­tered pub­licly, fol­lowed the pow­er­ful tes­ti­mony of sev­eral dozen vic­tims and rel­a­tives of the dead gath­ered in the court­room. Ear­lier in the day, 23 of them — some still an­gry and suf­fer­ing, oth­ers ready to move on and for­give — told the judge how the April 15, 2013, bomb­ings had for­ever ripped apart their lives.

Many dis­missed Tsar­naev’s state­ment as in­ad­e­quate. “A sim­ple, be­liev­able apol­ogy would have been nice,” said Lynn Ju­lian, an

ac­tress who suf­fered a con­cus­sion in the at­tack. “But there was noth­ing sin­cere or be­liev­able in what he said.”

Scott Weis­berg, a physi­cian who lost much of his hear­ing, agreed: “I don’t think it was gen­uine.”

But Henry Bor­gard, a young col­lege English ma­jor who now walks with the aid of a ser­vice dog, said he had for­given Tsar­naev. “I have come to a place of peace, and I gen­uinely hope he does as well,” Bor­gard said. “For me to hear him say he is sorry — that is enough for me.”

It was a day of raw emo­tion in the fed­eral court­house, be­gin­ning with the vic­tims’ state­ments, fol­lowed by the star­tling an­nounce­ment that Tsar­naev would speak pub­licly for the f irst time since the trial be­gan, and end­ing with U. S. Dis­trict Judge Ge­orge A. O’Toole Jr. telling him, “I sen­tence you to the penalty of death by ex­e­cu­tion.” Though the fed­eral jury had pre­vi­ously voted to im­pose the death penalty, O’Toole’s sen­tence made it of­fi­cial.

Tsar­naev was es­corted out of the court­room by two U. S. mar­shals. Pros­e­cu­tors said he would be taken to fed­eral prison, pos­si­bly the su­per­max fortress in the Colorado Rock­ies, and even­tu­ally to fed­eral death row in Terre Haute, Ind. There, he will be­come the youngest fed­eral in­mate, wait­ing to sur­ren­der his life for mur­der­ing three peo­ple and in­jur­ing more than 260 oth­ers in the twin pres­sure- cooker bomb­ings, and for killing a po­lice of­fi­cer dur­ing the sub­se­quent man­hunt.

For most of the twom­onth trial, Tsar­naev’s si­lence and ap­par­ent lack of en­gage­ment made him some­thing of an enigma to jurors and the public. He de­clined to tes­tify in his own de­fense. And de­spite brief ly chok­ing up when his Rus­sian aunt tes­ti­fied about his up­bring­ing, Tsar­naev dis- played no emo­tion through of­ten grue­some med­i­cal tes­ti­mony about in­juries and heart- wrench­ing ac­counts from eye­wit­nesses. At times he ap­peared dis­tracted or even bored.

On Wed­nes­day, Tsar­naev’s four- minute state­ment of­fered the only f irst­hand in­sights to date about the young man’s state of mind, mo­tives and thoughts about the at­tack. Dressed in a dark sport coat and gray shirt, his black hair and beard di­sheveled, Tsar­naev ap­peared to have mem­o­rized his com­ments.

“I am a Mus­lim. My re­li­gion is Is­lam,” he said. “I ask Al­lah to be­stow his mercy on those present here to­day. I pray for your re­lief, for your heal­ing, for your well- be­ing, for your strength.

“I ask Al­lah to have mercy on me, my brother and my fam­ily,” he said.

Tsar­naev ac­knowl­edged how dif­fi­cult it must have been for the vic­tims and sur­vivors to ad­dress the court ear­lier in the day, and he praised them for speak­ing “with strength and with pa­tience and with dig­nity.”

At one point, he seemed to ac­knowl­edge crit­i­cisms that he had de­tached him­self from the trial and ig­nored vic­tims’ painful tes­ti­mony. “I was lis­ten­ing,” he told the court.

He said the Ko­ran teaches that “no soul is bur­dened with more than it can bear.” He also noted re­peat­edly that in the Is­lamic faith, this is the “blessed month of Ramadan to ask for­give­ness of Al­lah.” He ended with, “Praise be to Al­lah, the lord of the worlds.”

It was star­tling to most that he spoke at all. With le­gal ap­peals in his case au­to­matic, many pre­dicted he would not speak out of con­cern for jeop­ar­diz­ing his fu­ture, or be­cause he had noth­ing he wanted to say.

But Judy Clarke, his lead de­fense lawyer, told the court that Tsar­naev had been pre­pared to of­fer a for­mal state­ment of re­morse ear­lier in the case in re­turn for a plea bar­gain with the gov­ern­ment. But she said pros­e­cu­tors re­jected the of­fer.

Tsar­naev’s at­tor­neys had ad­vised him to avoid tes­ti­fy­ing dur­ing the trial, but he had ex­pressed a de­sire to speak once it was over, ac­cord­ing to a source close to the de­fense team. Dur­ing his two years in cus­tody, Tsar­naev has grown closer to his faith, which may have played a role in his de­sire to ex­press re­morse to the vic­tims, the source said.

In hand­ing down the death sen­tence, O’Toole cited Julius Cae­sar and quoted an aria from Verdi’s Ital­ian opera, “Otello”: “Credo in un Dio crudel,” or “I be­lieve in a cruel God.”

But O’Toole said some­one who be­lieves in a cruel God can­not also ex­pect that God to “smile upon him.”

He told Tsar­naev, who im­mi­grated to the Bos­ton area as a young boy with his fam­ily, that de­spite the nice things his teach­ers and friends said about him from the wit­ness stand, in the fu­ture “when­ever your name is men­tioned it will be about the evil you have done.”

The judge ad­mon­ished Tsar­naev for be­ing taken in by vi­o­lent ex­trem­ists. “They are not lead­ers,” he said. “They are mis­lead­ers.”

Many of the vic­tims had their f inal say too. Most did not look at Tsar­naev, and he did not look at them. None men­tioned him by name, call­ing him “the de­fen­dant.” Some said they wished he had got­ten help for his older brother, Tamer­lan Tsar­naev, who the de­fense said was the ring­leader of the at­tack and who was killed dur­ing the po­lice man­hunt.

Some dis­missed the younger brother as in­com­pe­tent, a fol­lower. “You failed as a soldier in ji­had,” said Wil­liam Camp­bell, whose daugh­ter, Krys­tle Camp­bell, was among the dead. Said Karen McWat­ters, who lost her left leg: “You ru­ined so many lives. You also ru­ined your own. You will die alone in prison.”

Last to speak was Re­bekah Gre­gory, another am­putee. “You and your brother have lost,” she said.

“Your in­tent was to de­stroy Amer­ica. You have ac­tu­ally uni­fied us. Choos­ing us to mess with was a ter­ri­ble idea.”

Scott Eisen Getty I mages

BOMB­ING vic­tim Erika Bran­nock, left, ar­rives at court, where the death sen­tence was con­firmed.

Jane Flavell Collins As­so­ci­ated Press

“I AM GUILTY,” Bos­ton Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsar­naev as­sured the court be­fore Judge Ge­orge O’Toole Jr. for­mally sen­tenced him to death.

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