A federal jury Wednesday found 21-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev guilty in the twin bombings of the Boston Marathon two years ago, convicting a young man who had embraced radical Islam and carried out one of the worst acts of terrorism on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001.
The conviction sets up the second phase of the trial, in which the same jury will decide whether Tsarnaev spends the rest of his life in a maximum-security prison or dies by lethal injection.
Tsarnaev was charged with 30 counts and could face the death penalty. The charges included using a weapon of mass destruction that resulted in the deaths of three people and, separately, the killing of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer.
The former college student listened impassively as the jury foreman read the verdict, according to reports from the courtroom. The panel of seven women and five men deliberated for about 11 hours beginning Tuesday morning as it reviewed the lengthy list of charges.
The guilty verdict – which comes a week before the anniversary of the bombings – had been a foregone conclusion after one of Tsarnaev’s defense attorneys, Judy Clarke, told the jury at the start of the trial that her client carried out the bombings with his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, who was killed after a shootout with police.
Clarke argued that it was Tamerlan who engineered the bombing and also radicalized and dominated his younger brother who, she said, does not share the same level of culpability.
“We don’t deny that Dzhokhar participated in these events,” she told the jury, made up of jury of seven women and five men. “But if not for Tamerlan, it would not have happened.”
The prosecution dismissed that line of defense and repeatedly told the jury that the brothers were a team and that they wanted to punish Americans for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Assistant U.S. Attorney William Weinreb said blaming the older brother was an attempt to “dodge responsibility for what he did.”
Prosecutors described Tsarnaev’s plan as “a cold, calculated, terrorist act” that was “blood thirsty.
“To shred the bodies of young women and children with a homemade bomb, you’ve got to be different from other people,” Weinreb said during closing arguments.
The government called more than 90 witnesses over the course of the trial, which began with opening statements on March 4. Prosecutors methodically described the construction of two pressure cooker bombs packed with shrapnel that were placed near the finish line on April 15, 2013, and the horrifying destruction when they exploded among the crowds watching the race on Boylston Street.
More than 260 people were injured when the bombs detonated within seconds of each other; 17 people lost limbs.
During the trial, prosecutors played a video of Tsarnaev planting one of the bombs near 8-year-old Martin Richard, whose body, they said, was “destroyed” in the blast.
Clarke tried to play down the video by saying that her client intentionally put the bomb next to a tree – not the boy. This is likely to be a crucial point of contention in the sentencing phase because Martin’s age will likely be cited by prosecutors as an aggravating factor in support of the death penalty.
Prosecutors said they could not say definitively which brother shot and killed MIT police officer Sean Collier, but told the jury that as a matter of law they were equally culpable.
Prosecutors also described how the brothers carjacked a man driving a Mercedes after they were identified as suspects. They then fled to Watertown, Mass., where police finally confronted them. Armed with a 9mm handgun, Tsarnaev fired 56 times and both brothers tossed pipe bombs at the police, prosecutors said.
The older brother was killed during the confrontation, but Tsarnaev escaped. He was later discovered wounded and hiding in a boat in a nearby backyard, where he wrote a note that prosecutors described as a confession. He also carved a line in the boat: “Stop killing our innocent people and we will stop.