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Defense Rests Case In Boston Marathon Bombing Trial


The defense rested its case today for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev after just a few hours of testimony. NPR's Tovia Smith was in court, and she joins us now. And Tovia, to begin, we're talking five hours over two days. Why so short?

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Well, you're right. It was short - just four witnesses compared to the 92 called by prosecutors, but that's 'cause Tsarnaev's lawyers have admitted he did what he's accused of doing. They said on the first day they don't dispute that he was the one who left that bomb at the marathon. So their single aim now is to try and cast Tsarnaev as the kind of junior of the two conspirators - less in charge and - they hope jurors will decide - a little less deserving of the death penalty if it gets to that. And right now they're not allowed to do much more than hint at that since right now really the only question is, is he guilty? So the defense has to wait, and that's why they were done so quickly.

CORNISH: They did call witnesses though. Can you tell us about them?

SMITH: Yeah - two witnesses to speak about which brother did what or didn't do what - again, suggesting a greater and lesser actor. They called in an FBI fingerprint expert to say that pieces of the Marathon bomb showed only Tamerlan's prints - none from Dzhokhar - same with the bomb that exploded in the firefight days after and a bunch of other incriminating evidence. The exception was one Tupperware bomb found after the shootout. That had prints from both, but more from Tamerlan.

So the government tried to make the point that fingerprints fade away, people can wear gloves, some leave more than others, but overall, an impression was made that Tamerlan may well have done more to make these bombs than Dzhokhar. Now, how much that matters to jurors, we'll see.

CORNISH: Tovia, you mentioned a second witness. Tell us about that testimony.

SMITH: He was a computer expert who also bolstered this idea of Tamerlan as the real, committed terrorist and Dzhokhar less so. He did a little compare-and-contrast between their laptops. He said Tamerlan's computer was used to search for fireworks, detonators and gun stores. Dzhokhar's wasn't. It was used most for social media. Also, the online al-Qaida bomb-making instructions on Dzhokhar's computer, he said, were transferred from Tamerlan's.

So a decent day for the defense - possibly some impact, but certainly not the emotional punch that jurors got yesterday when the government kept its case with the horrific images of the young boy killed by the bomb that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev brought to the marathon.

CORNISH: Tovia, now that both sides have rested their case, what's next?

SMITH: Well, it's going to be a few days off because of holidays and housekeeping things. Closing arguments will be Monday, then it goes to the jury to deliberate. And if they convict, these same jurors would come right back for a whole new trial on whether Tsarnaev should be put to death. And that's when this picture of Tsarnaev as young, vulnerable, intimidated by his older brother will really be filled in by defense attorneys who are hoping to convince jurors to spare Tsarnaev's life.

CORNISH: That's Tovia Smith covering the Boston Marathon bomber trial. Tovia, thank you.

SMITH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tovia Smith is an award-winning NPR National Correspondent based in Boston, who's spent more than three decades covering news around New England and beyond.