The accused Boston Marathon bomber "had murder in his heart" when he placed a homemade bomb behind a line of child spectators in a coordinated attack that killed three people and injured 264, prosecutors said in the trial's opening on Wednesday.
Federal prosecutors, who have accused 21-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev of carrying out the largest mass-casualty attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001, focused heavily on the blasts' youngest fatality, an 8-year-old boy, as they laid out their accusations in U.S. District Court in Boston.
Assistant U.S. Attorney William Weinreb described how the defendant, and his 26-year-old brother, carefully selected the places where they left the bombs at the crowded finish line on April 15, 2013, in an effort to punish the United States for military actions in Muslim-dominated countries.
"The defendant wasn't there to watch the race. He had a backpack over his shoulder and inside that backpack was a homemade bomb. It was the type of bomb favored by terrorists because it is designed to tear people apart and create a bloody spectacle," Weinreb said. "He pretended to be a spectator but he had murder in his heart."
Tsarnaev, whose older brother, Tamerlan, died following a gunbattle with police three days after the blasts, could be sentenced to death if he is found guilty of charges that also include shooting a police officer to death.
"He believed that he was a soldier in a holy war against Americans," Weinreb said.
The defense was to have its opportunity to make opening statements later on Monday. It aims to portray Tsarnaev as having been under the spell of his older brother, who they contend masterminded the attack.
U.S. District Judge George O'Toole noted that the question of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's relative blame versus that of his brother was one to be taken up only after the jury determines his guilt. He told defense attorneys that he would question the relevance of such evidence before the trial's sentencing phase begins.
"Some evidence of the brother's interactions will be inevitable," O'Toole allowed.
Tsarnaev, who sat quietly in court wearing a white shirt and sport coat but no tie, has pleaded not guilty to all charges in a 30-count indictment.
A dozen or so people injured in the attack and family members, including dancer Heather Abbott and Marc Fucarile, both of whom lost legs in the blasts, and the parents of the youngest victim, 8-year-old Martin Richard, sat quietly in court during the proceedings.
A panel of 10 women and eight men, all white, were chosen to hear Tsarnaev's trial. If they find him guilty, they are to determine whether to sentence him to death or life in prison without possibility of parole. The proceedings are expected to last into June.
Security was tight around the courthouse. Officials have closed some nearby roads amid several large-scale construction projects.
Defense attorneys had cited the "Boston Strong" signs that hung on some of those sites in four requests to move the trial out of the New England city. O'Toole denied the fourth request shortly before opening statements on Wednesday.
The bombing also killed restaurant manager Krystle Campbell, 29, and graduate student Lingzi Lu, 23. Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier, 27, was fatally shot three days later.
Outside the courthouse, the scene was quiet other than a throng of news media. The judge had rejected a request by defense lawyers to prevent pro-Tsarnaev protesters, who they said advocated conspiracy theories, but none of the supporters were visible early on Wednesday.
One man wearing a Veterans for Peace button carried a sign reading "Death Penalty is Murder."
"This man should not be given the death penalty. That's why I'm here," said Joe Kebartas, a 66-year-old retiree. "No one should be put to death in this country."