It’s not surprising that the legal defense team of Boston Marathon bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev would play up his youth and “vulnerability” to save him from the death penalty, but it’s downright amazing to watch the media swoon over him. First there was the controversial Rolling Stone cover that made him look like a Tiger Beat poster boy, and now CNN court-watcher Ann O’Neill is irresistibly drawn in by his charms, fawning over him like a lost puppy. In fact, CNN legal analyst Mark Geragos is quoted in the piece literally referring to the blood-splattered child murderer as a “Neanderthal puppy.”
The whole thing reads like something that would have been concocted by fictional meth kingpin Walter White’s slippery lawyer, Saul Goodman, who just launched his own show on AMC. Come to think of it, this whole trial should play out the way Saul’s first case did on the TV show, with the blustery circus performance of the defense obliterated by a scowling prosecutor playing a videotape of the crime for the jury.
O’Neill clearly knows what game the defense is playing. She goes out of her way to mention the notorious example of the Menendez Brothers, who charmed their way out of death sentences for slaughtering their parents by appealing to the paternal and maternal instincts of the jury. She begins the article by hearing her mother’s voice in her head, giving little-boy-lost Dzokhar advice for making a good impression on the jury — “Sit up straight, get your hair out of your face.” That is precisely the impression Tsarnaev’s team wants to convey, and it’s working well enough to make CNN reporters fantasize about being his mommy.
But most of her CNN post reads like O’Neill and her colleagues can’t help playing the game anyway, gushing over the jihadi poster boy like a pack of high-school girls meeting under the bleachers to gush about the bad boy sitting in the back of their homeroom class. His every movement is analyzed for hidden meaning. His seemingly depressed state of mind is fussed over. His tendency to avoid eye contact with courtroom officers and spectators is converted from a sign of guilty conscience into an “African-America, Arab, and Muslim” cultural indicator of boyish submission to adult authority. O’Neill frets that the poor dear might still be suffering from the injuries he sustained during his capture, which anyone less besotted with the dewy-eyed youth might remember was quite lively, at the insistence of Dzokhar and the brother he wound up running over in his haste to escape a gun battle.
His tender youth is repeatedly mentioned, as O’Neill and other CNN commentators labor to make the point that he’s really a teenager like any other.
“Most people who have raised teenagers have sat across a table from this kid,” asserts Geragos, right after describing the terrorist as a Neanderthal puppy. The funny part is that CNN’s brain trust winds up the article wondering if the defense team might be trying to infantilize him as an “impressionable kid heavily influenced by his older brother.” Gee, ya think?
Tsarnaev’s scribbles and doodles lead O’Neill to believe “this kid clearly misses his smartphone” — a thought that leads her to recall what he scribbled and doodled on the inside of the boat he was hiding in when the cops finally dragged him to justice, a message she says “some people” call a “confession, or a manifesto.” That would be every sentient human being capable of reading, Ms. O’Neill, as Tsarnaev’s message was the textbook definition of both a confession and a manifesto — a manifesto of Islamic jihad, no less, which explicitly invoked religious texts to authorize Tsarnaev’s murders. The whole point of Tsarnaev’s courtroom dreamboat act, and CNN’s reporting of it, is to muddy the issue and create sympathy for the devil, at least enough to spare him the death penalty.
Even as she does her bit to contribute to the superficial antics of the Tsarnaev defense, O’Neill muses that the case might be decided by superficial reactions to “powerful images,” including those of Tsarnaev’s victims:
Images have always been a big part of this case. One of the three people killed in the bombing was 8-year-old Martin Richard, and a haunting photo of him went viral in the days after his death. In it, Richard holds a bright blue poster decorated with hearts and the words: “No more hurting people.” He made the poster for a school project about a year before he was blown apart by a pressure cooker bomb Tsarnaev allegedly dropped off in a backpack near the marathon finish line.
It’s one of those thoughts that haunts you: Did one boy die at the hands of another even though their message was the same?
We mourn the boy lost, and video of his violent, premature death is likely to be played over and over again in court. I dread viewing it, and I know I will cry when that day comes. But is it any wonder that some people are struggling during jury selection with the notion that their government is asking them to endorse the death of the other person? Will an execution really fix anything, they ask.
Bear in mind that this passage comes immediately after O’Neill quotes Tsarnaev’s “message,” which he scrawled on the inside of the boat he was hiding in after murdering innocents, shooting at cops, and lobbing homemade bombs at his pursuers: “The U.S. government is killing our innocent civilians. I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished. We Muslims are one body, you hurt one and you hurt us all. Now I don’t like killing innocent people, it is forbidden in Islam, but due to said [illegible] it is allowed. Stop killing our innocent people and we will stop.”
Golly, I might not have the legal credentials of CNN’s top-shelf panel of analysts, but I think there are some pretty substantial differences between the “messages” of Martin Richard and Dzokhar Tsarnaev. In fact, I might postulate that the messages of the innocent little boy and his savage murderer were entirely different.
You’ve got to love that final dash of sophistry, so typical of death-penalty opponents: “Will an execution really fix anything?” The standard for executions is that they have to cause the resurrection of the killer’s victims? Talk about raising the bar!
“Federal prosecutors have warned jurors they will be shown images of a dying Martin Richard. It will be horrific,” O’Neill predicts in conclusion. “Some who can’t bear to watch may end up looking at Tsarnaev instead. It could be the single most important moment of his life.”
Or, at least, the single most important set of money shots for ratings-hungry news networks, anti-death-penalty zealots, and terrorist sympathizers.