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The Boston Bomber Might Have Cried in Court on Monday

Reporters don't seem to be sure whether or not the convicted 21-year-old shed a single tear, but his life could depend on it.

by Allie Conti
May 5 2015, 4:00am

The John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse in Boston. Photo by the author

Reporters covering the Boston Marathon bombing trial have not reached a consensus on whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev shed a single tear in court on Monday. But this is the critical sentencing or penalty phase of his trial, where the prosecution hopes to get the 21-year-old put on death row by having victims and their families testify that he's essentially a monster. The defense, of course, is determined to "win" a life sentence in prison for their client by humanizing him.

When Patimat Suleimanova, Tsarnaev's aunt, tried to answer questions, she couldn't stop sobbing. That's when Tsarnaev "appeared" to cry himself, as the Boston Globe reported.

What's tricky here is that in the courtroom, all of the observers sit behind Tsarnaev, so it's hard to tell what he's doing at any given time. Reporters only get to scope the guy out for a few moments a day when he's walking toward them to be seated at the defense table. That means there's a certain amount of guessing involved with regards to whether or not he actually "wept" (as the New York Times put it), which would be a pivotal moment for the defense as they try to garner mercy for their client.

What we know is that Tsarnaev reached for a box of tissues and dabbed at his face. On the conservative side of the spectrum, the Wall Street Journal said he "showed rare emotion." And there's already a think-piece about the possible tear-up on called "Why Tsarnaev Cried." Its cringe-worthy opening line? "Savagery is harder than you think."

It's hard not to think of The Photo when trying to contextualize The Tear. During the opening arguments for the sentencing trial, the prosecution's mic drop came in the form of a security camera still: In a video that was taken in July 2013, three months after Tsarnaev was apprehended, he shoved his middle finger toward his cell's security camera.

There are plenty of reasons DzhokharTsarnaev would've legitimately cried that have absolutely nothing to do with remorse.

That infamous shot of the bomber flipping the bird was probably more of an act of boredom than outright anger, but reporters covering the case live didn't have that context. As such, the photo was legitimately shocking—a beautifully executed rhetorical flourish on the part of the prosecution.

As for what went down Monday, there are plenty of reasons Tsarnaev might've pretended to cry in court. There are also plenty of reasons he would've legitimately cried that have absolutely nothing to do with remorse. For instance, he's probably settling into the fact that the best case scenario here is that he spends the rest of his life in the federal supermax prison—an abjectly miserable place.

Last month, a jury found Tsarnaev guilty of all 30 counts related to the bombing. Of those, 17 carry a death sentence. One of his attorneys, Judy Clarke, is an expert at defending the most hated people on Earth, and she's never had a client get executed. When she opened up arguments in the first phase of the trial with, "It was him," those words were a testament to how confident she is at her ability to humanize the most unsympathetic defendants.

We don't have a clear-cut answer about whether or not Tsarnaev showed remorse, but if so, it's the most important thing to happen in the trial so far.

The case is already shrouded in secrecy. As the Boston Globe reported, by the middle of last month, the word "seal or "sealed" had already been used 878 times in the trial. It's unclear who is asking the judge to seal all the documents, but that number is basically unprecedented. As of today, we don't even have a clear-cut answer about whether or not Tsarnaev showed remorse, but if so, it's the most important thing to happen in the trial so far.

Back in July of 2013, when the security footage was taken of Tsarnaev flipping off the camera, Rolling Stone published an article that showed the other side of him—a teenager who loved to smoke weed and watch Game of Thrones. The point was to ask: What went wrong? The most moving part of the lengthy cover story, which relied heavily on Tsarnaev's friends, came in the form of a rumor. According to a nurse, the bomber cried for two days straight after waking up in the hospital. Even if that's true, we'll never know what he was crying about.

In addition to the two instances of possible crying, we got another tantalizing suggestion of the alleged monster's humanity today in court: When he was exiting the courtroom—in plain view of every reporter there—Dzhokhar Tsarnaev blew his aunt and cousin a kiss.

Follow Allie Conti on Twitter.

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