As testimonies continue in the ongoing Boston Marathon bombing trial, some are wondering whether we will hear from the man in question: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Federal prosecutors are now nearing the end of their case against Tsarnaev, and experts are weighing the pros and cons of a testimony from the very man in question. Some say that putting Tsarnaev on the stand carries too much risk because it’s hard to predict what he might say or how he might respond, but some argue that might be the only way to add the touches of humanity and sincerity necessary for Tsarnaev to dodge the death penalty. So, will Tsarnaev testify at the trial?
At this point, The New York Times reported that Tsarnaev’s behavior in the courtroom isn’t doing his case any favors. He reportedly appears bored and disinterested, and he picks at his goatee and slouches in his chair. Tsarnaev comes across as aloof and his demeanor makes him difficult to read, the newspaper reported. Based off of that performance thus far, putting him up on the witness stand seems like a risk, but it could also be the moment that upends the negative impressions he has made so far during the trial.
If Tsarnaev seems sincerely remorseful for his actions and for the deaths he caused, he could gain sympathy from the jury and possibly increase his chances of avoiding the death penalty. As much as the lawyers can argue that their client feels remorse, the most believable person to hear that from is from the defendant himself. William Bowers, who headed the Capital Jury Project that polled jurors on the death penalty, told The Huffington Post:
A death sentence is less likely to be imposed if the defendant testifies and is remorseful.
Moreover, Tsarnaev’s defense is not even attempting to argue for his innocence. Tsarnaev’s lawyers admitted his guilt at the opening of the trial. They are arguing instead that Tsarnaev’s role was only secondary to his brother’s, in the hopes that he can avoid facing the death penalty. If Tsarnaev testifies, he would be doing so either before the jury reached a verdict or during the sentencing phase, when jurors determine whether to sentence him to death or to life in prison,
The Huffington Post reported.
But just as much as a testimony could buy him hope, it could also spell his demise. Historically, putting a defendant on the stand — especially in a capital case — is considered to be extremely risky, the Times reported. For example, when Bruno Richard Hauptmann, the man charged with the kidnapping and murder of Charles A. Lindbergh's baby, took the stand, he made a horrible impression and was convicted and sentenced to the death penalty.
A defendant’s decision to opt out of testifying can be harmful too though. If a defendant decides against testifying, that can sometimes raise the jury’s suspicion. Moreover, the jury and the public likely want to hear Tsarnaev’s voice, which has largely been absent throughout the trial and in the last two years since the bombing occurred. Aside from his Twitter account, the public has only heard from Tsarnaev in two instances since the incident: his responses to law enforcement questions while he was in the hospital, and the note he wrote on the sides of the boat where his brother was killed.
Whichever decision is made, Tsarnaev undoubtedly faces big risks. But while his guilt seems to be undeniable at this point, he does still have one slim chance, and his actions could make or break it.
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