It was an unexpected moment. After two years of silence, and sitting through his trial looking bored and impassive, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who has been sentenced to death for the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, rose in court Wednesday to apologize for his deeds.
“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,” Tsarnaev, 21, who is originally from Kyrgyzstan, mumbled softly in heavily accented English.
“I’m guilty of it. If there is any lingering doubt of that, let it be no more,” he said.
The four-minute speech, laced throughout with references to Allah, came during a day filled with drama, beginning with heart-wrenching victim impact statements and concluding with the judge formally confirming a jury’s death sentence against Tsarnaev with words from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”:
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“The evil that men do lives after them,” the judge said. “The good is oft interred with their bones. So it will be for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.”
The path to Wednesday’s scene began on April 15, 2013, when two pressure-cooker bombs, planted by Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, tore through the marathon. Three people were killed that day, 17 lost limbs and 250 more were injured, many grievously.
A fourth person — a law enforcement officer — was killed a few days later. Tamerlan was killed in a shootout with the police. Before he was captured hiding in a boat, Tsarnaev wrote that the bombings were revenge for all the innocent Muslims killed in American-led wars.
Tsarnaev frequently referred to his religion in his brief comments.
“I prayed for Allah to bestow his mercy upon the deceased, those affected in the bombing and their families,” he said. “Allah says in the Quran that with every hardship there is relief. I pray for your relief, for your healing, for your well being, for your strength.”
But even as Judge George A. O'Toole Jr. of U.S. District Court formally sentenced Tsarnaev on Wednesday to six death sentences, 20 sentences of life in prison and four more sentences of between seven and 25 years, little was actually over. Appeals by Tsarnaev’s lawyers could take years, if not decades, to wend their way through the courts.
Two dozen people who were directly affected by the bombing gave statements Wednesday. Many were angry. Some called Tsarnaev a coward and a failure. A few said they forgave him. And many said they still could not fathom the depth of cruelty that led him to destroy innocent lives.
“She was not the enemy,” Karen McWatters, who lost a leg, said of her friend, Krystle Campbell, who was killed in the blast. “They didn’t even know her.”
Jennifer Rogers, the sister of Sean Collier, the MIT police officer who was killed by the Tsarnaev brothers a few days after the bombing, called Tsarnaev a leech, a coward and a liar who felt no remorse, she said, and who “spit in the face of the American dream.”
He not only took her brother’s life, she said, but in a sense, he took hers. too. She said strangers invade her privacy all the time, asking her how it feels to have a brother who was murdered, and it is hard to explain what it is like to be “part of a big, publicized tragedy.”
She indicated that her sense of loss has been debilitating. “I rarely date anymore,” she said. “I don’t really know what makes me happy anymore.”
Bill Richard, the father of 8-year-old Martin, who was also killed in the blast, spoke with his wife, Denise, by his side. The family had wanted the jury to sentence Tsarnaev to life in prison. On Wednesday, they spoke publicly for the first time since the jury chose the death sentence. They said Tsarnaev could have stopped his brother but had made a deliberate choice not to.
“He chose hate, he chose destruction, he chose death, this is all on him,” Richard said. “We choose love, we choose kindness, we choose peace. This is our response to hate. That is what makes us different than him.”
Among those who addressed the court were several who call themselves “the invisible victims.” Generally, they did not sustain overt injuries, their stories never made headlines and they did not testify.
But many have some permanent hearing loss, suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, have lost their trust in people and are awakened by nightmares. Their relationships have suffered, too, as spouses and friends who cannot see anything physically wrong with them cannot understand why they are so upset.
Carol Downing wept as she said that her two daughters were waiting for her as she ran the marathon that day; one lost a leg and has had 21 surgeries, the other was severely injured. “I sob at the dinner table” from physical and mental exhaustion, Downing said, adding that she was racked with guilt “from placing my children at the finish line while I ran the marathon.”
Scott Weisberg, 45, a family physician from Birmingham, Alabama, had also run the race, crossing the finish line three seconds before the first explosion. He said he has mild traumatic brain injury and permanent hearing loss, which means he can no longer use a stethoscope.
“Now my practice is struggling to survive,” he said. “I’m getting a divorce because my spouse cannot grasp the trauma this has inflicted on me and my family.”
After the lunch break, Tsarnaev addressed the court, to the surprise of many, as he had not said a word in public since he said “not guilty” almost two years ago.
While apologizing, he spoke elliptically of the victims.
“I learned their names, their faces, their age,” he said. “And throughout this trial, more of those victims were given names, more of those victims had faces, and they had burdened souls.”
Those who heard Tsarnaev’s remarks seemed divided about them. The U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, Carmen M. Ortiz, noted that Tsarnaev did not denounce terrorism.
Lynn Julian, who was near the site of the first explosion and suffered traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and other ailments, doubted his sincerity.
“I regret having ever wanted to hear him speak, because what he said showed no remorse, no regret, no empathy for what he’s done to our lives,” Julian said.
But Henry Borgard, 24, who said in a victim impact statement that the post-traumatic stress he incurred had forced him to drop out of college and that he had forgiven Tsarnaev, said after the hearing that he was heartened by his statement.
“For me to hear him say he’s sorry,” Borgard said, “that is enough for me.”
O'Toole was unmoved. After Tsarnaev spoke, the judge told him: “Whenever your name is mentioned, what will be remembered is the evil you have done.”
He concluded by quoting Verdi’s opera “Otello,” in which the evil Iago sings: “I believe in a cruel God.”
“Surely someone who believes that God smiles on and rewards the deliberate killing and maiming of innocents believes in a cruel god,” O'Toole said. “That is not, it cannot be, the God of Islam.”