The Washington Post

There are life-extending miracles happening in every room here — every minute of every hour of every day. These are four of them.

All my preconceptions about homeless people turned out to be wrong.

After the defense and the prosecution had rested their cases in the penalty phase of the federal trial to either kill or imprison Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a panel of death penalty abolitionists gathered at Old South Church in Boston. The Church stands at the finish line of the Boston Marathon and is less than 100 yards east of the detonation point of the first pressure cooker bomb, the one placed by Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The second bomb, the one placed by Dzhokhar and which detonated 12 seconds later, lies one block farther west.



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Watching the defense team at work for the second week in a row it all begins to seem a bit desperate. The pitfall-covered uphill challenge of making Dzhokhar Tsarnaev into an empathetic figure in the eyes of the jury, after he has already been found guilty of the murder of three people and the attempted mass murder of hundreds more, must be daunting.

Standing up as a witness for the good character of someone who has already admitted guilt in attempted mass murder cannot be easy. A few must have thought long and hard about whether they wanted to go through with it at all. For those who have, possibly reluctantly, acquiesced to step into the witness stand, it is difficult for me personally to see them as anything but brave.

Some approach slowly on crutches, some in wheel chairs, some on prosthetics, and some with the damage only visible in the hollow recesses of their eyes and the sunken creases in their faces. For many of the victims of the Boston marathon bombing in 2013 this is their one opportunity to face the man who is responsible for their disfigurement and pain.

There was a succession of witnesses each of which I had to draw and listen to while getting the odd quote from and each one with an important, harrowing and sad story. Grown men cried and it turns out that drawing through binoculars is easy but drawing through tears not so much.

So some nice folks from The Fix, The Washington Post’s well-read political blog asked if I fancied doing a little political sketching last week. My first reaction was that, as a born again Canadian from Scotland I know somewhere between "diddly" and "Jed Bartlett" about U.S. politics. But it was an opportunity to get out of the office again.

Now I have done a little bit of court sketching, a few big trials even, but Tsarnaev was by far the biggest. I was there to sketch the various involved parties, so that when brilliant Washington Post reporter Adam Goldman filed his stories, my sketches would complement his work seamlessly.

As ‘urban’ sketchers we are obviously used to working outside. So when the weather drops below freezing we have the option of either sketching really fast or wrapping up really warm. Personally I have found that speed is the answer for me, and that it is all in the timing and location.

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