3:09:32 PMDzhokhar Tsarnaev’s upbringing and relationship to brother are key to sparing him from death penalty, experts say
April 23, 2013 (Recap)
If the United States decides to seek the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomb suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, his defense team will try to show that his brother, Tamerlan, was the mastermind behind the plot.
The devil, as the saying goes, is in the details.
Whether accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is put to death or spends the rest of his life in prison may depend on his defense team’s ability to show that his older brother, Tamerlan, was the true mastermind of the plot, three prominent attorneys tell the Daily News.
"The first thing for his defense team to do is to learn everything there is to know about him, and, in this case, his brother,” attorney Robert Gottlieb, of the New York firm Gottlieb & Gordon, said. "In order to develop a strategy, you have to understand what happened and why.”
In 2008, Gottlieb defended Adis Medunjanin, a Bosnian-born U.S. citizen who received a sentence of life in prison for planning a suicide bomb attack with Al Qaeda operatives that was to target the New York subway system.
Defense attorneys will scour Dzhokhar's family history for mitigating factors in the crime. "You put his entire upbringing and his relationship with his brother under a magnifying glass," attorney Martin Stolar told the News.
"A defense attorney is always looking ahead in order to try and save a defendant’s life,” Gottlieb said, adding that Tsarnaev’s lawyers will undoubtedly examine whether Tamerlan convinced Dzhokhar to take part in the Boston bombings. "The mastermind of a crime who pressures others is more deserving of death than a mere tag-along.”
While the government has yet to declare whether it will seek the death penalty in the case, New York defense attorney Martin Stolar – whose client, Pakistani immigrant Shahawar Matin Siraj, was sentenced to 30 year in prison in 2007 for his role in planning to bomb the Herald Square subway station – believes it likely that it will.
In that event, Stolar said, Tsarnaev’s defense team, which so far consists of Boston attorney William Fick, will begin scouring their client’s past for details that could help explain his crimes.
New York Attorney Robert Gottlieb says that emotions in the Tsarnaev case may be too high for the defendant to avoid the death penalty.
"There are a range of things to look for,” Stolar said. "You follow leads, hire investigators and a mitigation specialist. You put his entire upbringing and his relationship with his brother under a magnifying glass.”
It is possible that Tsarnaev could, in Stolar’s words, "go the martyr route,” and announce that he welcomes the death penalty.
"If everything is clear with a client’s mental state, and the client says he wants to die, then I’m not sure I want to be on the case,” Stolar said.
Attorney Martin Stolar says there is always the possibility that Tsarnaev could "go the martyr route" and request to be put to death.
For attorney Creekmore Wallace, whose defense of Oklahoma City bombing accomplice Terry Nichols helped lead to a sentence of life in prison, it’s clear that Tsarnaev’s case won’t be decided quickly.
"I just see this dragging on for a long time," Wallace said.
As to the best defense strategy that Tsarnaev’s team should follow, Wallace agrees with Stolar and Gottlieb that the key is getting to know as much as possible about the relationship between Dzhokhar and Tarmerlan. To do that, Wallace said, the 19-year-old’s lawyers should follow every lead.
"Make friends with the media,” Wallace said. "Some of the best information we ended up using to defend Nichols in court came directly from the media."
Wallace, Gottlieb and Stolar each emphasized that Tsarnaev’s cooperation with the government could ultimately play a role in sparing him from the death penalty but cautioned that it was too early to know for sure.
"Typically, if a defendant is very cooperative, it can result in him receiving a benefit of some sort,” Gottlieb said. "On the other hand, the emotions are so raw in this case, and with the political environment screaming for the maximum punishment, it may become impossible to spare Mr. Tsarnaev his life.”
By David Knowles / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
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