Sister Helen Prejean, who was made famous in the 1995 movie Dead Man Walking starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn, met Tsarnaev five times since March at the request of the defence. She said she could hear in his voice that he regretted his role in the 2013 attacks, which left three people dead and more than 250 wounded.
“I had every reason to think that he was taking it in and that he was genuinely sorry for what he did,” Prejean testified yesterday.
The defence team called more than 40 witnesses in the penalty phase of his trial in the hope of convincing the jury that Tsarnaev’s late older brother concocted the plot and that Tsarnaev deserves life in prison instead of execution.
His teachers recalled a sweet, hardworking boy, while his Russian family members wept as they described a kind child.
A psychiatrist said Tsarnaev’s father struggled with severe post-traumatic stress disorder, while others described a mother obsessed with religion.
From the beginning of the trial, Tsaranev’s lawyers admitted he participated in the bombings but said his older brother, Tamerlan, was the mastermind. The brothers placed two pressure-cooker bombs near the finish of the marathon on April 15, 2013. Days later, the brothers shot dead a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was convicted of all 30 charges against him during the first phase of the trial, including 17 that carry the possibility of the death penalty.
During the penalty phase, Tsarnaev’s lawyers urged the jury to consider Tsarnaev’s young age at the time of the bombings — 19 — and his dysfunctional family as mitigating factors and grounds to spare his life.
Friends and family members said 26-year-old Tamerlan embraced a radical form of Islam and became a domineering influence on Dzhokhar.
The Tsarnaevs — ethnic Chechens — had lived in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan and the volatile Dagestan region of Russia, near Chechnya, before moving to the US in 2002 when Dzhokhar was eight.