On April 8, 2015, a jury of twelve returned a guilty verdict on all thirty counts in the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. One did not have to be in the jury room to know how they got there.
The outcome of the guilt phase was a certainty long before the start of the trial. Boston, the place and Boston, its people, were thoroughly traumatized by the horrific crime and its aftermath. A continual onslaught of TV, newspaper and internet articles saturated the minds of those already deeply affected, fanning and spreading the flames of bias well beyond the city limits.
The case was essentially tried in the media and the defendant found guilty months before judge and jury were selected.
When the case finally went to trial, many, like me, were shocked to see that actual evidence pointing to the defendant was non-existent. The prosecution won its case by playing on the emotions of the jury with sensational, graphic pictures and audio too terrible for the general public, who followed the proceedings on Twitter.
I leave it to the attorneys to right that wrong. May God grant them the wisdom and courage to see just how win-able this case is!
On May 15, 2015, the same jury of twelve sentenced Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death for his role in the Boston Marathon bombing. After studying the list of mitigating factors and the corresponding number of jurors who agreed with each one, it is unclear, if not downright bewildering how a death penalty sentence was handed down.
Last night I began a careful and deliberate study of the sixteen mitigating factors in an effort to understand. I never got past the first one.
1. No prior history of violent behavior.
This is not a subjective statement. This is a true or false fact: did Dzhokhar Tsarnaev have a history of violent behavior or did he not? This is a knowable fact.
A jury is instructed to make their decisions in a case based on what they hear in the courtroom. Period. Anything they have read or heard before being impaneled is to be tossed from the mind and the deliberations.
So how did the jury feel about this mitigator; did they agree or disagree with it?
Out of 12 people, 11 agreed. There was a lone dissenter. That got my attention.
What did that one person know or think they knew that caused them to say Dzhokhar Tsarnaev did indeed have a history of violent behavior? What did they alone hear at trial that made them disagree with 11 other jurors who said the defendant had no prior history of violent behavior?
As I pondered this, I suddenly recalled a story I had read over a year ago. It took me the better part of an evening and some of the following morning to track down the source, but eventually I did.
On December 15, 2013, the Boston Globe ran a story entitled “The Fall of the House of Tsarnaev.” This story says it is the result of a five-month long investigation by several reporters. It appeared in the Globe at a time when defense attorneys were already filing motions complaining of leaks and law enforcement, prosecution and media attempts to taint the jury pool. These motions were never seriously or adequately addressed by Judge O’Toole.
It appears their concerns were well-founded.
“The Fall of the House of Tsarnaev” was written in chapter form. The following is an excerpt from Chapter Three. The speaker, who is credited with relating this story about Dzhokhar, is none other than Steven Silva, who was arrested on unrelated charges and offered a lighter sentence in exchange for his testimony against his friend.
This is how the article described Steven:
“Still, Dzhokhar soon found a social niche. He already had two close friends from his public high school, Cambridge Rindge & Latin, joining him: His best friend, Steve, a Muslim convert who was also close to the rest of the Tsarnaev family…”
And here is the story Steve told reporters for “The Fall of the House of Tsarnaev” :
“Steve said Dzhokhar was similarly spared punishment after he got into a physical altercation at an upper-class dorm party at UMass Dartmouth, which sent the male victim to the hospital for treatment. He said Dzhokhar was questioned by someone at the school, but never got written up. Indeed, campus officials told the Globe Dzhokhar had a clean record with them.”
When Steven Silva testified at Dzhokhar’s trial, his testimony surrounded the gun. The above story was never mentioned. If this juror recalled reading it and used it to say that Dzhokhar did have a history of violent behavior that, in my untrained opinion, is juror misconduct.
I believe this juror needs to come under scrutiny for all their responses. I believe they need to be interviewed under oath and made to give an accounting of how and why they came to this conclusion. I believe their computers and devices need to be searched to see if the Boston Globe article containing this story was accessed during the trial.
If my opinion sounds harsh and unreasonable, please remember this is a death penalty case. This is someone’s life the jurors unanimously decided to take. If a mistrial should be declared because of juror misconduct, it won’t be the first time.