Return to Transcripts main page
THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Death Penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired May 15, 2015 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the U.S. and around the world. I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.
We're continuing our breaking news coverage. He has been sentenced to die. The convicted Boston bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, will meet his end by lethal injection for his crimes, actions that killed four people, Martin Richard, age 8, Lingzi Lu, Krystle Campbell, and MIT police officer Sean Collier.
His actions, of course, injured 264 others on that horrible day two years ago and one month ago of the Boston Marathon bombings. The jury weighed its decision for a day-and-a-half before reaching its verdict. And then the world waited another 19 minutes after the jury started reading to find out that the convicted terrorist who maimed so many people, such as Heather Abbott, or Jeff Bauman, Rebekah Gregory, Dic Donohue, so many others, that that terrorist killer who paralyzed a great American city would die for his crimes.
Let's get right to CNN's Deb Feyerick, who was in the courtroom.
Deb, what can you tell us? What was his reaction? What was the reaction of the jury? What was the reaction of individuals in the courtroom?
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's start, first of all, with some of the victims and their relatives, the survivors.
Some of them did dab tears as the verdict, as the sentence was read in which Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will receive death for the crimes he committed at the Boston Marathon. The jury, they looked straight ahead. They did not look at Dzhokhar Tsarnaev while that sentence was read.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, meantime, he really looked forward in the court. He didn't look towards the jury, though every now and again he seemed to sort of tilt his head looking at them. He was looking mostly at his lawyer, because the jury, what they did is they broke down the capital counts.
So, instead of finding that the government had proven beyond a reasonable doubt all the capital counts and the factors they had to consider, they really sort of sectioned them off, so there were some counts for which he was sentenced to death, but not all. So they really gave it a lot of thought. But death, when the
courtroom heard death, there was nothing audible. There was a heavy silence. That's the best way I can describe it. You had the U.S. attorney who was in there. You had the head of Boston's FBI. You had the chief of Watertown, who has been there in that court virtually every day, and everyone sat in almost this stunned silence when the death sentence was read, Jake.
TAPPER: And, Deb, you note that there were a number of counts, almost 20, and the jury only voted to convict, or I'm sorry, to sentence Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death over some of them. If I'm looking at the numbers right here, it's count four, five, nine, 10, 14, 15. All of those charges have to do with using a weapon of mass destruction, which is, of course, pressure cooker bomb two, that ended up killing Lingzi Lu, Martin Richard and wounding others.
So, I might be wrong here. I'm far from a lawyer. But it seems as though he's going to death specifically because he himself put that bomb, that pressure cooker bomb on that location, and that is what he is going to death -- going to be sentenced to death for, not for the other crimes surrounding this terrorist attack. Am I right?
FEYERICK: Right. That's right. They were very, very specific on the counts to which they sentenced him to death.
So -- and that also sort of jumped out at everybody in the court, because the prosecution had said, look, these brothers were partners in crimes. They were collaborators. What one did, the other did. So, the fact that they were able to isolate it and really hold him accountable for the weapon of mass destruction at the Forum Restaurant, the bomb that killed Martin Richard, the bomb that killed Lingzi Lu, he was -- they also found that he was involved in the death of Krystle Campbell and officer Sean Collier, but for the most part, it appears at first glance that, yes, that's exactly what they did.
They were able to isolate those capital counts that they thought he should be put to death for, Jake.
TAPPER: And Martin Richard's family, Martin Richard, the 8-year-old, the innocent young boy who was so brutally murdered by the Tsarnaevs that day, his family had made it clear, I believe, Deb, that they did not support the death penalty, that that is not something they were seeking.
What was their reaction in the courtroom today?
FEYERICK: Yes. It's so interesting that you mention that, Jake, because they did. They wrote an op-ed basically saying no. Sentence him to life in prison. We don't want to hear his name ever again. But if you put him to death, then the process will drag out. There will be updates on the status, and the filings, and what they decide to do.
But they were sitting in court. I was probably 20 feet away from them. And I looked over and Bill Richard was sort of leaning forward. He had his elbows on his knees, his chin cupped in his hand. And he just looked stoic. That's the only sort of description I can give.
And even his mother, Denise, she didn't seem to flinch. She didn't seem to shed a tear. Look, this was the sentencing phase, not the guilt phase. They have been through a roller coaster of emotion ever since their little boy died and they were left to pick up pieces. But there was no visible reaction from them.
And usually in courts, Jake, as you know, somebody will sort of -- will scream out, will say something. You know, they will just -- they will voice an opinion. The judge's clerk made it very clear anybody who did that would be held in contempt. But there was none of that.
It was just people listening to what the jury found, but also trying to make sense of all the numbers. You know, you had reporters who had been in that courtroom going over the 24-page sheet for about two-and- a-half days, trying to sort of make sense and organize, and figure out what they were going to tweet out.
And even faced with sort of the precision of the jury's response, it was difficult to really kind of figure out specifically what counts they were considering and what counts they weren't. So, this was a very sharp jury, by all accounts, because they were able to go through everything that was in front of them, section it off, and do applicable counts as to what should be death and what should be life.
And even if he did receive life on some of the other counts, it didn't really matter, because all you needed death on one of the counts, unanimous death on one of the counts, and that really trumps everything.
TAPPER: All right, Deb Feyerick, thanks so much. Stay there. We will come back to you.
Joining us now to talk about this decision are CNN's Jean Casarez and CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
Thank you so much for being with us.
Jeffrey, let me start with you. Are you surprised at all by the sentence of death?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I'm not.
But it's also true this could have gone either way. This is a community that by American standards is unusually opposed to the death penalty. Opinion polls in both Boston and in the Massachusetts area show considerable opposition in general to the death penalty and to the death penalty for Tsarnaev.
So, even though the crime was so monstrous and so well-known in Massachusetts, there was a lot of community opposition to the death penalty, but, look, the monstrousness of this crime cannot be overstated, the evil, the horror. The -- the -- what was imposed on these individuals and the community is so unspeakable that giving a jury the chance to impose the maximum penalty, it is not surprising that they that they imposed it.
So I don't think this was a likely result either way, but it's certainly not a surprising one either.
TAPPER: And, Jean, let me ask you, despite all the opposition to the death penalty in Boston and in Massachusetts, correct me if I'm wrong, but you couldn't be on this jury if you opposed the death penalty, right? You wouldn't have been admitted as a juror.
JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No question. It's called a death- qualified jury. And even in the midst of the commonwealth that does not have the death penalty, this was a jury that said that they could impose the death penalty.
Remember, it's not finished now. There will be a sentencing hearing. This jury has said, it is our decision unanimously that he die, but the judge will impose the formal sentencing. And this 24-page verdict form that Deb Feyerick was talking about, it was so sophisticated and it was really like a flow chart, but they started going through it pretty quickly.
And you saw that in the statutory aggravating factors. Those are reasons why you could impose the death penalty. There were a lot of points that were unanimous, but it was the mitigating factors that I started to see the state of mind of the jury. And, just as Jeff said, it's only one jury is necessary to make it not unanimous.
But when I started seeing that only three jurors believed that Tsarnaev acted under his older brother's influence, that he was particularly susceptible to that brother's influence, you started seeing that the jury believed he was his own person, that he acted on his own, and it was shortly after that that we saw on those counts, five counts, I believe, the jury says, we believe death is warranted here.
TAPPER: And, Jeffrey, just to go through the counts on which he was sentenced to death, they all seemed to revolve around using a weapon of mass destruction, pressure cooker bomb number two, which resulted in the deaths of Lingzi Lu and Martin Richard.
So, even if there were jurors, three jurors, who thought that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was under the influence of his brother, on this count, when he walked down the street and put that backpack with the pressure cooker bomb inside it right behind that 8-year-old boy and the crowd, the Richard family and others, even those three jurors thought, well, he did that on his own.
TOOBIN: That's right.
And it's a pretty sophisticated reading of the evidence, I think, and likely, I think, something that will help the government to sustain this verdict on appeal. Sometimes, jurors simply just throw the book and say, we don't even want to hear the evidence. We're going to find anything we can against this defendant. We're going to do that. This jury obviously made a very careful study of the evidence. For
example, they did not sentence him to death in connection with the murder of officer Collier. As horrible as that is, that is not why this death sentence imposed. It was imposed for the very specific reason that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, on his own, without anyone standing over him, put that bomb near the finish line, and had -- and then it went off.
So, look, this is going to be a very long appeals process. Timothy McVeigh was convicted in 1997, and he wasn't executed until 2001. I think that's the kind of length of time we're looking at, at the fastest. And...
TAPPER: Jean, do you agree with Jeffrey that the appeals process might last as long as four years?
CASAREZ: It's an automatic right of appeal. They are going to string it out as long as they can. That's part of the process here.
But even if he'd gotten life in prison, it doesn't mean that they're not going to appeal it. The defense would have appealed it. It's not an automatic right. But either way, the defense attorney is going to try to get the case overturned or the death verdict overturned.
TOOBIN: Jake, if I can just add one thing, just to talk about the time horizon here, there are 62 people are on federal death row now. There have only been three executions since 1988, when the death penalty came back into federal court.
So people have been waiting a lot longer than four years. Four years for Timothy McVeigh was actually pretty fast by federal death penalty standards. So, one of the arguments actually Judy Clarke made in defense of Tsarnaev is, if you sentence him to life in prison, he will go to prison and be forgotten about and there would effectively be no more proceedings.
Now, she is -- she was correct to say, there will be years and years of litigation over this death sentence.
TAPPER: Let me bring in Susan Candiotti, who is an expert of sorts on the McVeigh execution.
Susan, we're talking about that just because, as Jeffrey aptly points out, it is not easy, even after a death sentence has been imposed, to have that actually carried out in federal court, with it taking four years for McVeigh and much longer for other people, only three individuals having been executed by the federal government since the death penalty was brought back in 1988.
What happened with the McVeigh case? What parallels do you see that might be drawn here with the Tsarnaev case?
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'll tell you, Jeff is absolutely right.
Four years was considered at the time a very short length of time to go through the appeals process in a federal case like this. Many people thought that that appeals process would drag on for years. And while four years is a long period of time, it's not as long, as I said, as many thought it would be before finally he was brought to Terre Haute, Indiana, for the execution.
And it's important to remember that, in the meantime, it is very likely, just like Timothy McVeigh, that Tsarnaev will be brought to the supermax prison in -- out -- in Colorado to wait out the appeals process. So his conditions will be very restricted during that period of time.
And it was actually during that period of time that Timothy McVeigh granted a full-out interview to two reporters from "The Buffalo News," who wrote an extensive study about what he had to say about what took place.
And beyond that, Jake, you know, a lot of parallels in this case between the two, both Timothy McVeigh and Tsarnaev showing absolutely no signs of remorse. That obviously can play on a jury's mind. Both of them did not take the stand. Both of them had a big beef against the government, McVeigh going back to Ruby Ridge and what happened at Waco, Tsarnaev making his feelings known, certainly at the very least by his writings on the side of that boat, and, as I think Deborah or Jeffrey pointed out, dropping that knapsack with the pressure cooker bomb, choosing to drop that behind Martin Richard, before that bomb was set off -- so, a lot of parallels between these two cases, and both juries finding for the death penalty.
TAPPER: If you're just joining us, we're discussing the fact that a jury has found Dzhokhar Tsarnaev not just guilty, but they have sentenced him to death in six of the counts because -- prompted by the terrorist attack on April 15, two years ago, so two years and one month ago.
And I want to go to Deb Feyerick, who was inside the courtroom.
And, Deb, you've had more time to digest the directions to the jury and the counts on which they convicted him and sentenced him to death. Why, do you think, the jury convicted him of these six counts and not the others?
DEB FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think probably because of his proximity to the bomb. Because of the fact he was the one responsible for dropping the second pressure cooker bomb outside of the Forum Restaurant. The count four, as you mentioned, there are six counts. He was found guilty of six counts. Rather than sort of enumerate them, use of weapon of mass destruction resulting in the deaths of Lingzi Lu and Martin Richard, death, unanimous. Count five, possession of a firearm, pressure cooker bomb resulting in the deaths of Lingzi Lu and Martin Richard, unanimous, death. Count nine, bombing a public place resulting in the same deaths. Unanimous, death.
But in all of these three counts, it doesn't refer to the death of Sean Collier, nor does it refer to the death of Krystle Campbell, who was near the finish line, and that's where Tamerlan, the older brother, dropped his bomb.
And it's very, very interesting, because, you know, we're trying to get a sense of whether any of the jurors bought the arguments made by the defense that if not for Tamerlan none of this would have happened. Well, it appears at least three jurors, don't know which, don't know if they were the same, at least three jurors believed that, yes, if it were not for Tamerlan this would not have happened, that Dzhokhar, the younger brother, was susceptible to his brother, to his personality, to everything else about him. And also it was done under Tamerlan's influence.
So, three jurors absolutely finding, yes, those mitigating factors existed, and even though they found that his teachers still care for him, that his aunts and his relatives, they still love him and that a lack of parenting likely contributed to this, at least two of the jurors found that -- those mitigating circumstances were simply not enough to sway them away from the death penalty, because of the nature of the crime, because of this act of terror on U.S. soil using a weapon of mass destruction to knowingly kill people.
And they also found that he absolutely picked the Boston marathon because it's so symbolic, because of who would be there -- you know, families, parents, children, couples, people on a day off. So, it almost made the choice of target even that much more sort of horrifying, because those people there were sort of innocents. It wasn't a government building. It wasn't sort of -- you know, some official residence -- excuse me -- sorry. A little jumpy here. It wasn't some sort of an official residence but a marathon. A marathon would people would be out having fun.
We can tell you, there is a heavy police presence here. We got a dog sniffing the perimeter. Boston Police Department is here. Absolutely there are eyes even in the Boston harbor.
The defense attorneys, I do want to tell you, Jake, did come out. They were the first ones out of the courtroom. Before they came out, though, they followed Dzhokhar Tsarnaev into the back, which is where there's a holding cell, where they meet him usually before court begins, and they did have a couple of moments to speak with him. They were the first ones out of the back of this court, and when people asked them, what's your reaction, are you going to appeal? They looked very upset and they said nothing.
So, we have no sense of what their thinking is but they truly believed, and you saw that in court, you saw it in the passion in which they argued for the jury to spare his life. You really saw that they believed Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was worth saving. The jury thought otherwise, Jake.
TAPPER: And if you're just joining us we're waiting for attorneys and family members to come to the microphones to talk about their reaction to this jury sentencing of death to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Kevin Cullen is joining us now, I believe he's there. Oh, he's on the phone. Kevin Cullen, you were in the courtroom. Tell us your reaction.
We saw a courtroom sketch a second ago on our screen of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, hearing the sentencing, the decision by the jury. What were your impressions?
KEVIN CULLEN, COLUMNIST, BOSTON GLOBE (via telephone): Well, the thing that was striking I was sitting next to where the victims are sitting and turned and looked, and Bill and Denise Richards, whose son was murdered, they were dry eyed and had come out quite publicly against the idea of a death penalty, they thought would begin an endless stream of appeals that would not allow their family to move forward, in some respects the whole city of Boston.
[16:20:02] And there were Liz Norden, whose sons JP and Paul, both lost legs and Liz was publicly in favor of saying that he deserve the death penalty for what he did, and Liz was in tears. So captured these two ranges of emotion in a time like this, and maybe not what you would expect, but a very emotional moment I think, particularly for the folks like Liz Norden who live with this loss every day.
But I'll tell you, as usual, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev showed nothing. He just stared forward.
TAPPER: Kevin, when you were in the courtroom, I heard Dzhokhar Tsarnaev yesterday at a time the jury was not in the room, Dzhokhar was laughing about something?
CULLEN: Oh, yes. He was very loose throughout this whole, the penalty phase, to be honest. I mean, there's a different Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. When the jury comes in, he's a poker face, showing nothing, but before, when the jury -- before the jury enters the courtroom he would generally be having sort of jovial jocular conversations with his lawyers, and I never understood that.
The idea -- and you know, one thing that struck me, Jake, listening to the jury verdict sheet read out by the clerk, you know, there are only two of those jurors who believed he had any remorse for what he did. So ten of them didn't believe that at all.
And, you know, I said this the other day, which is Helen Prejean, the famous anti-death penalty campaigner from "Dead Man Walking", she went up there and testified they had shown remorse when she met with him. The jury had to trust a nun or trust their eyes, and every day watched this guy walk into court, and show absolutely no emotion, when people stood ten feet away in the witness box and talk about losing their loved ones or losing their limbs and there was just nothing there.
And, you know, until we talk to the jurors, we won't know how much that play add role in this, but -- you know, I have to believe it did. I mean, we all, we here who attended this trial every day, we saw the same person they did, and it was just so hard to fathom, his inscrutability I think definitely played a role and the reason he's facing the death penalty right now.
TAPPER: There's an interesting dynamic in the commonwealth of Massachusetts, Kevin, as I don't need to tell you. It's a rather liberal, a rather progressive state, the death penalty is not supported. This, of course, is a federal case,.
TAPPER: And so, there is death penalty in federal court.
To be on this jury, you had to not have an opinion about the death penalty. You had to be willing to carry it out, if that's where the facts took you.
But polls indicate it's not just Martin Richard's patients who didn't support the death penalty. That many people, the majority I believe in Boston and Massachusetts oppose the death penalty. Tell us more about that dynamic, if you would.
CULLEN: Well, I mean, the polls consistently showed, Jake, that this region has the highest opposition to the death penalty in the United States. You're talking generally polls show anywhere from 60 to 70, depending on the way the question is framed, in opposition to the death penalty.
What was more striking is my newspaper "The Boston Globe" did polling and found only 20 percent in Massachusetts supported the death penalty to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and only 15 percent of people who live in the city of Boston did. That's incredible. Remarkable.
So you say, wait a minute. Does that mean this jury is not representative of this region, or this district? The eastern district of Massachusetts? Well, they never were to begin with, because they had to express, you know, a willingness to impose the death penalty to get on the jury in the first place.
So, in that respect, you know, they wouldn't be totally representative. But I've got to say, you know, if you sat through this evidence every day, and you listened to -- I must say that there was stuff said here in this courthouse that, there was never really in the public domain. There were videos taken on the sidewalk after the bomb went off outside marathon sports and after the bomb went off outside the Forum Restaurant and it was grotesque, and this jury was exposed to this when the general public was not. This jury actually saw photographs, autopsy photographs, that none of us saw. Only they saw it.
So, you know, it's very hard for us to place ourselves in their shoes, because they saw evidence that no one else saw. They lived with this, all of these -- beginning with the jury selection process, these people have been living with this for five months. So, it -- you know, I know people will second-guess the jury, particularly people in this region in this area where the opposition to the death penalty is so intense, but, you know, it's hard to put yourself in their place unless you actually in their place, in that courtroom day after day.
[16:25:03] TAPPER: Kevin Cullen, as always, so great to have you on the show. Thank you so much for your observations. Jeffrey Toobin, I want to bring you back.
Jean was mentioning a second ago, in sis really something of a recommendation to the judge, right? This is what the jury thinks should be done, the death penalty. Does this mean now the next step is the judge ask to either accept the recommendation or overrule it? Is that the next step?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Technically, that's true. But that's basically a formality. There is close to no chance that this federal trial judge will reject the jury's sentence.
However, the appeals process will be lengthy and serious and there is one issue in particular that I think offers Tsarnaev the best chance on appeal, and that's the issue of venue, where this was tried. You know, the question of whether he could get a fair trial in Boston was -- was not only fought out at the district court but that was appealed before trial, which is very unusual and even more unusual, it was a vote of 2-1. So, a very close vote in the appeals court to keep the trial in Boston.
We've been talking about the McVeigh trial, which has, as we discussed many parallels. Here's a very important difference between the Oklahoma City bombing case and the Tsarnaev trial. In the Oklahoma City case, there was a change of venue. The defense and prosecution agreed to move the trial to Denver, and that's where I covered the trial and many covered the trial.
Here, the trial was kept in Boston and the defense has argued throughout this process and certainly will argue on appeal that it was impossible for him to get a fair trial in Boston, even with the polls that show substantial opposition to the death penalty.
So, I'm certain as the many years of appeals begin, the issue of whether this could be a fair trial in Boston will be front and center throughout.
TAPPER: Victims, people maimed in the bombings, now reacting to the death sentence, on Twitter.
Sydney Corcoran, who suffered shrapnel wounds and whose mom lost both her legs, tweeting out, quote, "My mother and I now think he will go away and we will be able to move on. Justice. In his own words, an eye for an eye."
Adrian Haslett, a dancer who lost her leg when the bombs went off writing this, quote, "My heart is with our entire survivor community. I am thrilled with the verdict #BostonStrong, #BostonSafer."
Any minute we could hear from the prosecutors in the case. We're also expecting to hear victims of that brutal terrorist attack two years and one month ago.
More of our breaking news coverage after this very quick break. Stay with us.