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Family recounts death of MIT officer during Boston bombing manhunt

Father of slain MIT police officer testifies about trauma from Boston Marathon attack

Joe Rogers and his wife, Kelley, were at home when the phone rang late that night. The MIT Police Department informed them that their police officer son, Sean Collier, had been shot.

His wife screamed as Rogers struggled to understand what happened to his stepson. Shortly thereafter a Massachusetts Institute of Technology officer knocked on their door and rushed them to Massachusetts General Hospital.

“We pulled down the street and there were cops all over the place,” Joe Rogers testified Wednesday in the penalty phase of the trial of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

This month Tsarnaev was convicted of shooting the officer five times, including once between the eyes, as Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan, were trying to evade a police manhunt after the April 2013 bombings.

“They put us in this room,” Rogers told the jury. “My wife was calling the children, and one by one they all showed up.... It was rather devastating. Sometimes it still feels like it’s a dream.

“And then they took us to see Sean. The jury has seen some pictures, but he had a hole in the middle of his head. He was shot to pieces. And he’s laying there. They don’t really clean him up much yet, and my wife is touching him and his blood is coming up in her hands.”

The horrifying testimony was used Tuesday by prosecutors to sway the jury in the capital murder case to sentence 21-year-old Tsarnaev to death.

Sean Collier was 27 when he died. The Tsarnaev brothers had tried unsuccessfully to wrestle away his service revolver. Collier was found slumped down in his patrol car, his gun still locked into his holster.

His death left his mother unable to work as a medical administrator, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. His siblings have been widely affected too. Some cannot sleep, some moved away, Rogers testified. Family holidays and vacations are grim.

“It’s been a terrible two years,” Rogers said. “We just had the two-year anniversary, and Kelley spent the weekend crying.”

On Tuesday, prosecutors unveiled a new photograph of Tsarnaev, now 21, angrily flashing his middle finger at a surveillance camera in his courtroom holding cell just before he was arraigned in 2013.

The government is expected Wednesday to show more images of Tsarnaev in that cell.

Tsarnaev was found guilty earlier this month, and the sentencing phase will determine if he should be get death or life in prison with no parole. The jury of seven women and five men must vote unanimously for a death sentence. Otherwise, he will be given life.

To close out their portion of the penalty phase, prosecutors also are considering showing the jury a video montage of all 17 amputees from the bombings. The government could wrap up their case by Thursday.

The defense would start their case on Monday, arguing for the jury to spare his life. 

On Twitter: @RickSerranoLAT

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