Some approach in wheelchairs, some on prosthetics, and some with the damage only visible in the hollow recesses of their eyes and the sunken creases in their faces. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev sits right of center in the court with his back to the public seating. Twenty feet to his left are the knees of the jury. Twelve feet to his right is the witness stand. 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. Some gaze at the jury, some look to the lawyer asking the questions, and one or two level their gaze directly at Tsarnaev.
For his part, Tsarnaev continues to seem ambivalent. He enters the court and exits with a distinct swagger. He rarely seems to acknowledge what is going on. He’ll turn slightly to watch the jury enter and turn again slightly when the jury exits but never swings his eyes anywhere near the witness stand. Nor does he seem to be in any way stunned by the harrowing testimony of witnesses.
But he is the only one in court unaffected.
My task using pen and words for the Washington Post is to transport you the reader into the courtroom. With no cameras or recording devices allowed I am doing my level best to capture the key moments and scenes. When the witnesses are on the stand I both draw them and write anything that seems like a meaningful quote at the same time. hence the terrible handwriting. Neither am I unaffected by their individual stories.
The last couple of days have produced some of the most saddening testimony from victims and family members that I have heard. The brother and stepfather of Sean Collier, the slain MIT police officer, each had an opportunity to speak of the man that they had loved and lost.
Joe Rogers, Sean’s stepfather talked slowly, casting glazed eyes around the court. “We were home,” he said. “We got a call at about 11:30 at night. My wife picked up the phone and then she started screaming.” They made a trip that night to identify Sean’s body. “ “My wife was touching him. His blood was all over her hands, ” he said. “He was shot to pieces.”
“There is nothing I miss the most,” replied Sean’s brother Andrew when asked by the prosecution. “I miss everything about him,” he said.
In court Tsarnaev has a number of security guys who keep a fairly close eye on him. Even when everyone else is distracted by testimony they are always seem to be focused on their charge. There are two in particular, though, that I like artistically because they look like exactly the kind of chaps that you would not want to get on the wrong side of. One, looks like a mafia hit man, and the other looks like a mountain. I managed a couple of sketches of them yesterday in a lull while either the prosecution of the defense was conferring with the judge. Whenever this happens the two of them stand up and watch Tsarnaev.
Towards the end of Wednesday the jury heard from Jinyan Zhao, a relative of deceased Lingzi Lu. According to Zhao, Lu’s parents were physically unable to bear the strain of coming to speak at the trial. Lu was an only child of China’s one-child policy so her loss has broken their small family. Jinyan said she was best described as a “beautiful nerd,”a “bubbly person” who loved discovering new things in America. And she talked of the wonderful risk that Lu’s parents took in supporting their daughter in her dream of coming to the U.S. to study.
After Lu’s death, her parents decided to allow her to be buried in Boston because the city meant so much to her. “We (Lu’s mother and Jinyan) went to the mall to find a dress for her to be buried in. We found a pink bridal gown. She (mother) even bought her a tiara.”
I sketched this scene during Jinyan’s testimony. At his daughter’s memorial service two years ago, Lu’s father gave a speech about his beloved daughter. The prosecution played it for the jury and translated it from Chinese to English. He finished his memorial speech with a Chinese saying, “Every child is like a little Buddha sent to help the parents,” he said.
At the end of Wednesday as the throng of journalists poured onto the sidewalk outside the court, I went and found myself another sketch to take my mind off the day. It was incredibly windy so I found a spot in the lee of the court building and sat in the sunshine sketching this Homeland Security police cruiser on the cobblestones. I hate drawing cars but the challenge distracted me nicely. A couple of police officers walked by as I sketched to check out what I was up to. “We look like the Batman mobile in front of Gotham City!,” one said later.
The pattern from the day before continued on Thursday with one victim after another recounting the day and recounting their recovery. The witnesses came and went and I sketched and wrote as fast as I could go. Every now and then the horror of it all washed over me along with everyone else.
Marc Fucarile rolled into court and up the ramp to the witness stand in his wheelchair early for his testimony. Some small procedural delay had both the judge and the jury still outside the court. The prosecution gathered for a huddle. Tsarnaev sat in his usual spot staring straight ahead with his usual security detail standing nearby. Fucarile only had eyes for Tsarnaev. While we all waited quietly his eyes did not seem to waver till the judge and jury were back and the trial was underway again.
“My (right) leg was instantly amputated (by the blast) on the street. A firefighter said afterwards that I handed it to him,” Fucarile said. He lost one leg and may yet lose another. “My left leg was severely burned, it blew off the back of my calf. It was filled with debris and scrap metal,” he said.
Heather Abbot looked only at the prosecuting attorney and the jury as far as I could tell. She looked proud and strong on the stand, as she talked about surviving that day, “I was catapulted through the doors of the (Forum) restaurant. I landed on the floor.” When no one would help her she started to crawl to the back of the building on her own.” Heather’s lower leg was mangled by the blast, she chose to have it amputated after the attack. “It was probably the hardest decision I ever had to make,” she said.
David King, a military trauma surgeon, talked about his memories of that day and the chaos that was faced at local hospitals. He also talked about eight-year-old Martin Richard. “For Martin to be standing so close to that blast puts him at a much greater risk of fatal injury than an adult,” he said. And “from viewing the autopsy reports … I can say that Martin Richard did not die instantaneously.”
Last on the stand was Steve Woolfenden, father of then three-year-old Leo. Steve lost a leg in the blast. Steve didn’t really look at Tsarnaev or anyone else; he seemed to be right back in the moment he was describing. His pain at reliving it all was obvious.
In 2013, Steve with Leo in a jogging stroller had gone to the marathon to watch Leo’s mum Amber complete the race. They heard the first bomb go off and Steve said his first instinct was to turn and flee, “We never made it.” Steve was standing close to the second bomb and close beside eight-year-old Martin Richard and his mum Denise. “It felt like every part of my body was punched,” he said. “I checked on Leo. He had blood coming from the side of his head … My next thought was ‘lets get out of here,’ that is when I discovered that my leg had been severed.” Steve (now on the ground) pulled the stroller on top of him and tried to remove Leo from the stroller but his hands wouldn’t work. “Leo was screaming, ‘Mommy, Daddy, Mommy, Daddy,’” he said.
The prosecution played a video of the immediate aftermath of the second bomb and Steve picked out himself, the stroller along with Denise and Martin Richard all on the ground.
The whole court strained and leaned to see the monitor and what he was describing. Steve talked as the video played about seeing Denise Richard leaning over her son Martin. “I could hear Denise saying ‘please, please.’ I placed my hand on her back. She turned and asked if I was okay?”
After three days listening to their testimony, while drawing and writing, what strikes me more than anything else is the wholesome normalness of all of the victims. These were normal people — just truly really good, honest, normal people. They did not deserve this no matter the twisted ‘blowback’ logic you apply.
After the prosecution interviewed its last witness, after the jury exited, Tsarnaev left the court with the same nonchalant swagger.
As I exited the court Thursday afternoon a little old lady handed me another anti-death penalty leaflet. “Massachusetts ended the death penalty in 1984,” it said in bold print at the bottom, “let us not fall back into the dark days of tolerating public displays of cruelty and retribution.”
I can understand the challenge the jury will face in remaining objective in its decision.
Full Tsarnaev trial gallery here.
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