Federal prosecutors in the trial of convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev completed the penalty phase of their case Thursday by highlighting the stories of 17 amputees in urging the jury to sentence the 21-year-old Russian immigrant to death.
Bombing victim Steve Woolfenden testified about how he and his 3-year-old son, Leo, were near the finish line trying to see his wife, Amber, in the pack of runners. The second bomb tore off Woolfenden’s left leg. He said he managed to crawl to his son’s stroller, where he found the boy was bleeding from the head and crying, “Mommy! Daddy! Mommy! Daddy!”
“I tried to remove Leo from the stroller and comfort him,” said Woolfenden, a cancer biologist. “My fingers were so numb, I couldn’t undo the buckles. Everything smelled like burning hair, blood, sulfur. It smelled terrible. I was terrified.”
Tsarnaev was convicted this month on all 30 counts in the bombings, and now a penalty phase is underway for the jury of seven women and five men to decide one of two options: death, or life in prison with no parole.
On Monday, the defense team will start its case in their effort to spare his life. Tsarnaev and his now-deceased older brother, Tamerlan, detonated a pair of pressure cooker bombs that killed three people and injured more than 260 two years ago. Later, they fatally shot an MIT police officer during the search for them.
The testimony from amputees on Thursday left many of the jurors in tears.
Marc Fucarile, in a beard and white polo shirt, wheeled himself into the courtroom, one leg long gone, another still in danger of amputation. He was standing near where Tsarnaev left his bomb, and it “amputated instantly my right leg,” he said.
Fucarile said he collapsed to the ground after the explosion with most of his body on fire. He burned his unwounded hand by using his belt, which had been set on fire, to make a tourniquet.
In addition to losing his leg, 90% of his body was burned, and his face and hair were singed. He has endured more than 60 surgeries and procedures. BBs, ball bearings and a nail are still embedded in his body. A piece of shrapnel slammed into a vein and traveled to his heart’s right atrium, where it remains lodged.
Often Fucarile glared from the witness stand at Tsarnaev. But Tsarnaev, as he has throughout the trial, looked down and away.
Woolfenden testified that he saw Denise Richard, mother of 8-year-old bombing victim Martin Richard, crying, “Please!” and “Martin!” and resting her head on his chest as he died. She lost the sight in one of her eyes.
Woolfenden said he also could hear his own son crying and could see he was bleeding from a large gash in his head. “That’s when I discovered my leg had been severed off,” Woolfenden said. “I was wearing boots and my left boot was next to my now stump and protruding from the top of the boot was my tibia.”
He wrapped his belt around his leg to try to stop the bleeding and begged others, “Save my son.” Boston Police Officer Thomas Barrett scooped up the child and rushed him to an ambulance. Woolfenden’s son survived.
Woolfenden was taken in a separate ambulance to another hospital. With him was another amputee, Rebekah Gregory. They both were screaming in pain as the ambulance sped through crowded downtown Boston. “I turned my head to her and I asked her her name and asked her to give me her hand,” he said. “I wanted to hold someone’s hand.”