Convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has given his first public statement since carrying out the April 2013 terrorist attack.
“I would like to now apologize to the victims, to the survivors,” he told a Boston court shortly before being formally sentenced to death for the bombing. “I want to ask forgiveness of Allah and his creation.”
He added: “I am sorry for the lives I have taken, for the suffering that I have caused you, for the damage I have done – irreparable damage.
“In case there is any doubt, I am guilty of this attack, along with my brother,” Tsarnaev said, standing at the defense table, referring to his older brother Tamerlan, killed during the manhunt following the bombing.
To the victims attending the hearing at the US district court, he said: “I pray for your relief, for your healing.”
Tsarnaev’s voice occasionally faltered as he spoke, and he left meaningful pauses after each apology to the victims of the 2013 bombing and manhunt, which left four dead and more than 260 injured.
He also thanked nearly everyone who had been involved in the trial: his attorneys, his family, everyone who testified “with dignity” about their “unbearable” hardships.
He also touched on the accusation that he showed no remorse during the trial, saying: “I learned [victims’] stories, their names” and that he learned “more faces” with every hearing. His attorney, Judy Clarke, also mentioned the accusations of lacking remorse, saying her client had offered to resolve the case without trial in 2014.. Though US attorney Carmen Ortiz cast doubt on the statement. Clarke’s “statement as it was made in court was not completely accurate and it was not complete”, Ortiz said.
Quoting the Prophet Muhammad, Tsarnaev said that there would be no mercy for those who showed none.
Judge George O’Toole invoked Shakespeare to Tsarnaev: “When your name is mentionedall that will be remembered is the evil you have done.”
Tsarnaev’s statement came after an emotional morning of testimony during which survivors and family members of those who died in the 2013 attack faced the bomber and made a series of defiant and moving speeches to the court.
Tsarnaev met their anger and anguish with the same implacable blankness that he wore throughout his long trial. Dressed in a black suit, the 21-year-old sat impassive next to his lawyers.
He folded and refolded his hands, rested his chin in a fist, and occasionally scratched his beard or head. He tilted his gaze to the ground, and only rarely looked at the speakers as they described injuries, nightmares and lost loved ones.
In contrast, many of the survivors and victims’ families and friends made direct remarks to Tsarnaev, often in voices shaking with emotion.
Jennifer Rogers, the sister of Sean Collier, an MIT police officer killed by the Tsarnaev brothers after the bombing, vented years of anger at Tsarnaev.
“I will never have a complete family ever again,” Rogers said before describing her brother as a gregarious, generous man, whose love of “the small moments” was stolen by Tsarnaev. She said there was at least some solace in knowing Tsarnaev would not know the joy of those moments.
“He is a coward and a liar,” she said. “He is a leech abusing the privileges of American freedom.”
O’Toole was required to uphold the jury’s May recommendation that Tsarnaev be sentenced to death, but Rogers urged him to place exceptional restrictions on Tsarnaev’s incarceration wherever possible.
Elizabeth Bourgault, a runner who survived the blasts with injuries, also called Tsarnaev a coward.
“Whatever God that the defendant believes in is not going to welcome his actions,” she said. “The defendant’s God will condemn him to an eternity of suffering.”
Intense sadness mingled with the anger. Bill Richard, who lost his eight-year-old son Martin to the bombing, said: “There’s nothing we can say that will change anything for us.”
Tsarnaev “could have stopped his brother, he could have changed his mind”, Richard said. “He chose hate, he chose destruction, he chose death.”
But Richard said of he and his wife Denise: “We choose love,” and reiterated their opposition to the death penalty.
“We prefer he have a lifetime to reconcile himself with what he did that day, [but] he will not live that long,” said Richard.
The bombing killed three people, Krystle Marie Campbell, 29, Lu Lingzi, 23, and eight-year-old Martin Richard.
Days later Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan killed Collier as federal and state law enforcement hunted them down in the Boston area.
“This was an extraordinary case,” O’Toole said. “We will never forget the victims of these crimes and their stories.”
“You had to forget your own humanity, the common humanity you shared with your brother Martin, your sister Lingzi Lu,” he continued. “It is tragic, for your victims and now for you.”
O’Toole also repudiated the extremist rationale that inspired the Tsarnaev brothers: “Surely someone who believes God smiles on and rewards the killing of innocents believes in a cruel god. This is not and cannot be the god of Islam.
At 21, Tsarnaev now becomes the youngest person on death row in the United States. Following the hearing, he will be taken from custody in Massachusetts to a federal prison in Indiana. He probably faces over a decade of appeals before his execution could take place.
O’Toole said no one would remember that Tsarnaev’s teachers or friends were fond of him. He said what they what remember was that Tsarnaev “murdered and maimed innocent people” and “did it willfully and intentionally”.
Tsarnaev looked down and rubbed his hands together as the judge sentenced him. An appeal is automatic in death penalty cases.
During the testimony, police arrested a man outside the Moakley federal courthouse when he drove up in a Honda and took a large knife out of his license plate holder.
A handful of survivors spoke of forgiveness, and a few even mentioned closure. But many spoke of fighting for their future and of recovering despite the rippling consequences of the attack: medical costs, nightmares, children growing up without limbs, friends who no longer know how to communicate, and terror at the sounds of doors and sirens.
Survivor Johanna Hantel said that the trial “has not been healing” for her: “I do not believe in closure.”
But she did express pity for Tsarnaev, and was among a minority who asked him to try to do something good with the time he has left. In contrast, Michael Chase, a first responder who described the horror on Boylston Street in graphic detail, said: “I don’t want to speak to him. I’m here to say we’re OK.”
Stephanie Benz, whose left side had “frozen” as a result of injuries sustained in the bombing, said that she still had hope despite daily pain. Heather Abbott, an amputee, said that she did not care about Tsarnaev’s fate. “I care about what lies ahead for me and the other survivors and loved ones,” she said.
Rebecca Gregory, a double amputee, stood before Tsarnaev defiant. To deliver a victim impact statement, “I’d have to be someone’s victim. And I’m definitely not yours,” she said.
Gregory said she hoped Tsarnaev could be shown “the bigger picture” of his actions.
“Terrorists like you do two things in this world. One, they create mass destruction, but the second is quite interesting,” Gregory said. “Because do you know what mass destruction really does? It brings people together. We are Boston strong and we are America strong, and choosing to mess with us was a terrible idea.
“How’s that for your victim impact statement?”
Meghan Zipin, another survivor, summed up a sentiment felt by many of her fellows who have struggled to piece their lives together and make sense of the prolonged trial.
She said that while sitting in court she had reflected on her future – going home to her husband, doing yoga and having pizza – contrasted with Tsarnaev’s future in prison and the courts. “I realized I’m the one who’s alive. The defendant, he’s already dead.”
After O’Toole sentenced Tsarnaev, most of the men and women who testified to their experiences left the court without responding to questions from the media. Three remained to field questions, including Lynn Julian, who described Tsarnaev’s statement as an “Oscar-type speech”.
“I regret having ever wanted him to speak,” she said, adding that she heard “no remorse” in his voice. “There was nothing simple about what he said and there was nothing sincere.”
US attorney Carmen Ortiz said that the hearing was “a day for the victims to have a voice” and that her team of prosecutors “are all feeling very gratified” by the hearing.
She said that she was struck less by Tsarnaev’s surprise speech than by “what he didn’t say”.
“He didn’t renounce violence,” she said. “He didn’t renounce terrorism.”