BOSTON -- Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's trial is just beginning, and already his lawyers are admitting he's a guilty man. Experts say that just might save his life.
By faulting the 21-year-old for the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, defense lawyer Judy Clarke may have made it easier to soften her client's image, pin the majority of the blame on Tsarnaev's radicalized, overbearing big brother, and save her client from death row, experts told The Huffington Post.
"It makes sense that the defense came clean and said, 'Yes, it was him,'" said Northeastern University law professor Daniel Medwed. "I bet they scored some credibility points. Credibility with the jury is paramount."
In Clarke's opening statement, she essentially conceded that no one in the federal courtroom thought Tsarnaev was completely innocent of the charges in the 30-count indictment.
"For the next several weeks, we're going to come face to face with unbearable grief, pain and loss caused by senseless, horribly misguided acts carried out by two brothers," she said. "We do not and will not attempt to sidestep Dzhokhar's responsibility for his actions."
Assistant U.S. Attorney William Weinreb, in his opening statement, described witnesses and exhibits that would show Tsarnaev planned the April 15, 2013, attack, carried one of the bombs to the race and days later took part in the violent spree that included the fatal shooting of MIT Police Officer Sean Collier. His brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was also accused of the bombing, but died in a gunfight before police captured Dzhokhar.
After accepting some blame for her client, Clarke also tried heaping greater responsibility onto Tamerlan.
Tsarnaev was led astray by his older brother, who'd become obsessed with a violent strand of Islam, according to Clarke. "It was Tamerlan Tsarnaev who self-radicalized [and] it was Dzhokhar who followed," she said according to USA Today.
It was a shrewd decision by Clarke, according to Suffolk University associate professor of law Chris Dearborn.
"Why fight over things they shouldn't be fighting over," Dearborn said. "By getting that out front, it was an appropriate tactical choice by a very experienced and excellent defense team."
U.S. District Court Judge George O'Toole had issued a ruling that may hinder any benefits gained by the defense from its gambit. O'Toole said he would restrict the amount of testimony about Tamerlan's allegedly manipulative influence over Tsarnaev. If the jury reaches a guilty verdict, such testimony would be permitted during the sentencing phase.
The prosecution cast a starkly contrasting portrayal of Tsarnaev's personality and of his relationship with Tamerlan. Tsarnaev "believed that he was a soldier in a holy war against Americans," whose goal "was to maim and kill as many people as possible." He stood near children for several minutes at the marathon and deliberately placed one of the bombs near them, Weinreb said.
In Weinreb's words, the brothers were "partners" in planning and carrying out the attack.
Because Tsarnaev's not guilty plea still stands, the prosecution will invest weeks demonstrating that he allegedly committed crimes like using a weapon of mass destruction, conspiracy to bomb a place of public use resulting in death, and possession and use of a firearm during a crime resulting in death. Seventeen of the charges carry the death penalty.