BOSTON — In a startling turn, Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev rose to his feet and apologized to the victims and their loved ones for the first time today just before a judge formally sentenced him to death.
“I am sorry for the lives that I’ve taken, for the suffering that I’ve caused you, for the damage that I’ve done — irreparable damage,” the 21-year-old college student said in his Russian accent, breaking more than two years of public silence.
To the victims, he said: “I pray for your relief, for your healing.”
After Tsarnaev said his piece, US District Judge George O’Toole Jr quoted Shakespeare’s line “The evil that men do lives after them. The good is often interred with their bones”.
“So it will be for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev,” the judge said, telling Tsarnaev that no one would remember that his teachers were fond of him, that his friends found him fun to be with or that he showed compassion to disabled people.
“What will be remembered is that you murdered and maimed innocent people, and that you did it wilfully and intentionally. You did it on purpose,” O’Toole said.
“I sentence you to the penalty of death by execution,” he said.
Tsarnaev looked down and rubbed his hands together as the judge pronounced his fate.
The apology came after Tsarnaev listened impassively for about three hours as a procession of victims and their loved ones lashed out at him for his “cowardly” and “disgusting” acts.
“He can’t possibly have had a soul to do such a horrible thing,” said Karen Rand McWatters, who lost a leg in the attack and whose best friend, 29-year-old Krystle Campbell, was killed.
The outcome of the proceedings was never in doubt: the judge was required under law to impose the jury’s death sentence for the April 15, 2013, attack that killed three people and wounded more than 260.
The only real suspense was whether Tsarnaev would say anything when given a chance to speak near the end of the proceedings.
Until today, he had said almost nothing publicly since his arrest more than two years ago, offering neither remorse nor explanation.
During his trial, he showed a trace of emotion only once, when he cried while his Russian aunt was on the stand. And the only evidence of any remorse came from Sister Helen Prejean, the “Dead Many Walking” death penalty opponent, who quoted him as saying of the victims: “No one deserves to suffer like they did.”
In condemning him to death, the jury cited his lack of remorse as one of many factors.
His apology was a five-minute address peppered with religious references and praise of Allah. He paused several times, looking as if he was trying to maintain his composure.
He stood and faced the judge while speaking, but spoke of the victims.
Twenty-four people in all gave so-called victim impact statements at the sentencing, some of the urging him to explain himself and utter the words of remorse they longed to hear.
Tsarnaev made it clear he was listening.
“All those who got up on that witness stand and that podium relayed to us, to me — I was listening — the suffering that was and the hardship that still is, with strength, with patience, with dignity,” he said.
Tsarnaev will probably be sent to the death row unit at the US Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, where Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was executed. It could take years or even decades for appeals to work their way through the courts.
In May, the jury condemned the former college student to die for joining his older brother, Tamerlan, in setting off the two pressure-cooker bombs near the finish line and in killing an MIT police officer as they fled. Tamerlan, 26, was killed during the getaway.
A somber-looking Tsarnaev, wearing a dark sport jacket with a collared shirt and no tie, sat between his lawyers, his chair turned toward the lectern from which the victims spoke. He picked at his beard and gazed downward most of the time, only occasionally looking at the victims.
Campbell’s mother Patricia Campbell was the first person to address the court. She looked across the room at Tsarnaev, seated about 20 feet away, and spoke directly to him.
“What you did to my daughter is disgusting,” she said. “I don’t know what to say to you. I think the jury did the right thing.”
Rebekah Gregory, a Texas woman who lost a leg in the bombing, defiantly told Tsarnaev she is not his victim.
“While your intention was to destroy America, what you have really accomplished is actually quite the opposite — you’ve unified us,” she said, staring directly at Tsarnaev as he looked down.
“We are Boston strong, we are America strong, and choosing to mess with us was a terrible idea. So how’s that for your victim impact statement?”
Several victims condemned Tsarnaev for coming to the United States as an immigrant from Russia, enjoying the benefits of living here and then attacking American citizens.
“He is a leech abusing the privilege of American freedom, and he spit in the face of the American dream,” said Jennifer Rogers, an older sister of slain MIT Officer Sean Collier.
Bill Richard, whose eight-year-old son Martin was the youngest person killed in the bombing, said Tsarnaev could have backed out of the plot and reported his brother to authorities.
Instead, Richard said, “He chose hate. He chose destruction. He chose death. This is all on him.”
Richard noted that his family would have preferred that Tsarnaev receive a life sentence so that he could have had “a lifetime to reconcile with himself what he did that day”.
Richard said his family has chosen love, kindness and peace, adding: “That is what makes us different than him.”