DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And now let's return to a murderous act in Boston two years ago, the bombing at the Boston Marathon. One of the two brothers accused of carrying it out was killed in the aftermath. The other, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, is standing trial now. Prosecutors are wrapping up their case today. Then it will be the defense team's turn to do what they can for a young man they've already admitted was, in fact, one of the bombers. NPR's Tovia Smith reports.
TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: There is no suspense around the verdict in this case. With the virtually irrefutable evidence the government's offered and Tsarnaev's attorney's own admission that he did it, the defense team's only goal now is to convince at least one juror that the 21-year-old doesn't deserve to die. But even that is fraught.
RON SULLIVAN: The client is still toxic to the mind of so many citizens that the defense has to be exceedingly careful about everything they say.
SMITH: Harvard professor Ron Sullivan says the defense narrative that Tsarnaev was manipulated by a domineering older brother who was the real terrorist could well backfire.
SULLIVAN: It's a very thin line between explaining and excusing. So they have to be very careful. They can't run away from the wrongfulness of what happened.
SMITH: It's also tricky because the judges ruled that argument has to wait for sentencing. So Tsarnaev's lawyers can only hint at it now. Another defense attorney, David Hoose, says they may well lose some jurors.
DAVID HOOSE: The risk you run when you put on any defense in a case where you have in fact conceded the result at the outset is that the jury is going to be scratching their head and, you know, what are we supposed to make of this? I thought you said he did it.
SMITH: On the other hand, Tsarnaev's attorneys themselves have argued they can't afford to wait for sentencing to first introduce the idea of Tsarnaev as a vulnerable kid caught in the sway of his wicked older brother. Longtime defense attorney Jack Cunha says Tsarnaev's lawyers have to lay the foundation now.
JACK CUNHA: It would be foolish to wait. People are forming impressions, conclusions as the evidence comes in. So you have to be presenting your point of view right from the get-go.
SMITH: But that means following what may be the government's most emotional evidence of all, medical examiners' excruciating details of how the bodies of a 23-year-old student and an 8-year-old boy were brutally blown apart by Tsarnaev's bomb. Boston University law professor Karen Pita Loor says the challenge for defense is to try and make its case as jurors may still be wiping away tears.
KAREN PITA LOOR: It is very difficult to now bring them down to a place where they are not so passionately overwrought with anguish so that they can actually listen.
SMITH: After a conviction, defense attorneys would have a lot more leeway to cast Tsarnaev as a troubled teen drawn in to his brother's plot, though prosecutors would also keep making their case of a man hiding from everyone what they call the murder in his heart. Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.
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