Before the defense rested its case during the penalty phase of the surviving Boston Bomber's trial, Attorney Miriam Conrad called to the stand Sister Helen Prejean, C.J.S. to testify about Dzhohkar Tsarnaev's character. The 76 year old nun gained renown for her book Dead Man Walking (1994), that has been made into a movie (1996) an opera (2000) and a play written by Tim Robbins (2002). Dead Man Walking chronicles insights of the mindset of convicted murderers drawn from interacting with two prisoners on death row. The experience lead Sister Prejean to become an ardent anti-capital punishment activist.
Sister Prejean met with Tsarnaev five times since early March 2015. Sister Prejean testified that the 21 year old Tsarnaev brother seemed genuinely sorry for his actions. In fact, Prejean quoted the Boston Bomber: "No one deserves to suffer as they did." Prejean purported that Tsarnaev's "face registered" what he was saying as "absolutely sincere". CNN reporter Deborah Feyerick claimed this was nothing short of explosive testimony.
It's a pity that Dzhohkar Tsarnaev chose not to take the stand during the guilt phase, in which he was convicted on all 30 counts, nor during the penalty phase, so that the people could discern if it was real remorse or crocodile tears delivered through an earnest activist. Boston Bombing victims in the gallery shook their heads during claims that Tsarnaev was remorseful.
One revealing threat of testimony which was quickly quashed was when Sister Prejean started to speak about comparative religions. Sister Prejean noted that the Catholic Church had become more and more opposed to the death penalty. The prosecution objected on that point (as they had been chary about an anti Capital Punishment advocate testifying in the first place). Defense Attorney Conrad interjected "Let me stop you right there".
Was this a quick acquiescence to an inevitable objection or did the Defense not want to be too explicit in revealing their hand to the jury on Prejean's presence? Defense experts note that if one juror objects to the death penalty, then the Defense achieves its objective and Tsarnaev gets a life sentence without parole. It is thought that someone of Sister Prejean's stature might be able to influence the jury.
Prejean testified that when she first met Tsarnaev: "I walked in the room, I looked at his face and said, 'Oh my God, he's so young!'" . This played into the defense argument about youthfulness and impressionability. It echoes the Tiger Beat style cover of Rolling Stone. This innocent impression lends more sympathy then the fact that Tsarnaev was convicted of mounting a jihad inspired attack to punish American which killed three people and wounded 264 people.
Although it is understandable that an anti-Capital Punishment advocate like the Sister Prejean would want to testify on behalf of the Boston Bomber, it strains credulity that Tsarnaev's defense would rely on hearsay of remorse rather than have the convicted criminal show his true self up on the stand.
After eight days of testimony which called upon 44 witnesses, the defense rested its case after Sister Prejean's testimony. The twelve jurors will begin deliberations on Wednesday to determine if Tsarnaev would be in line for a lethal injection or serving a life sentence (presumably at Supermax) without possibility of parole.