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Boston Marathon Bomber Defense Team Calls Four Expert Witnesses

Defense attorneys for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev rested their case this week after building a case with the testimony of four expert witnesses.  The Tsarnaev defense argues that the young man was not the lead conspirator of the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings, but instead was manipulated by his older brother into participating in the attack.  With the defense resting, the case will go to jury for a verdict on guilt and a determination on whether or not Tsarnaev is eligible to receive the death penalty if convicted.

Attorneys for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Point to Older Brother

Throughout the trial of accused marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the defense team has conceded his involvement in the commission of the attack that killed 3 people and wounded more than 260 during the 2013 Boston Marathon.  However, defense attorneys argue that Tsarnaev is not guilty of the more than 30 charges against him because he was coerced by his older brother into committing the crime.  Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 6-years Dzhokhar’s senior, has been the focus of the defense team for allegedly planning the crime and encouraging Dzhokhar to join by instilling anti-American and terrorist sentiments in him prior to the act.  Tamerlan was killed in a shootout with police while the brothers were on the run form police after the attack.

In order to bolster its defense, Dzhokhar’s legal team called four expert witnesses to reconstruct the details of the attack planning process that demonstrate Tamerlan largely acted alone before soliciting his younger brother’s help to carry out the act.

Boston Marathon Bomber Defense Calls Four Expert Witnesses

With the prosecution resting its case after calling 92 witnesses, including several expert witnesses, over the course of 15 days, Tsarnaev’s defense team presented a relatively short and succinct two-day case last week by calling only 4 expert witnesses to the stand. Each of the four following defense experts was called to shift blame away from the defendant and towards his older brother who allegedly planned and organized the attack:

  • Computer forensic expert witness Mark Spencer took the stand to testify about the Internet searches on bomb making made by the Tsarnaev brothers leading up to the attack. According to Spencer, the significant majority of Internet searches seeking information about the construction of homemade bombs were made from Tamerlan’s personal computer, not Dzhokhar’s.  Additionally, Spencer testified that Tamerlan’s Internet search history consisted of jihadist literature, including al-Qaeda’s English-language magainze, Inspire.  Dzhokhar’s computer, on the other hand, had only two references to jihad in its search history prior to the attacks.
  • FBI field photographer Michelle Gamble testified as an expert witness on the items recovered from Tamerlan’s apartment during the subsequent investigation of the attack. According to Gamble, all of the evidence of bomb-making and jihadist literature were found in Tamerlan’s possession, not Dzhokhar’s.
  • Gerry Grant, a cell phone analyst expert witness, took the stand to tell jurors that on two occasions when Tamerlan purchased the materials necessary to make the bombs, Dzhokhar’s phone was in a different location. In each case, Dzhokhar’s phone was used in southern Massachusetts while Tamerlan purchased items north of Boston and in New Hampshire.
  • Finally, defense lawyers for Dzhokhar called FBI fingerprint expert Elena Graff to explain to jurors that the defendant’s fingerprints were not on any of the materials used in the attack. Instead, the bomb-making materials and gun-cleaning equipment recovered from the Tsarnaev home only had Tamerlan’s fingerprints.  Further, Graff testified that all of the items recovered from the blast site in Boston had Tamerlan’s fingerprints and not Dzhokhar’s.

Taken together, the four expert witnesses were used to leave jurors with the impression that Tamerlan and not Dzhokhar planned the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.  The defendant, who did not take the stand, has been portrayed as a participant but not mastermind in what is likely an effort to avoid the death penalty for his role in the attack.  Both sides reiterated their position in closing arguments early this week, leaving jurors to deliberate Dzhokhar’s fate over the coming days.