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Crude gesture of defiance from 'America's worst nightmare'

The penalty phase in the Boston Marathon bomber's death penalty trial opened in dramatic fashion yesterday, with federal prosecutors portraying Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as a coldblooded killer and "America's worst nightmare".

The jury that will decide whether the 21-year-old former college student should be executed heard witnesses who lost legs or loved ones in the April 15, 2013 bombing.

First, the jury was shown large, vibrant pictures of the four people killed in the Boston Marathon bombing and its aftermath. Then prosecutors pulled out the photo they saved for last: Tsarnaev making a crude gesture to the security camera in his jail cell.

"This is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev - unconcerned, unrepentant and unchanged," federal prosecutor Nadine Pellegrini told the jury.

Three people were killed and more than 260 wounded in the bombing, carried out by Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, to punish the US for its wars in Muslim countries. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer was shot to death days later as the brothers tried to get away.

Tsarnaev was convicted earlier this month of all 30 charges against him during the trial's guilt-or-innocence phase. His lawyers did not give an opening statement, but will do so once the prosecution has made its case.

The defence contends Tamerlan (26) masterminded the bombing, and Dzhokhar, then 19, fell under his influence.

The 12-member jury must be unanimous for Tsarnaev to receive a death sentence; otherwise, he will automatically get life behind bars.

Several jurors shed tears as the father of Krystle Campbell, a 29-year-old restaurant manager killed in the bombing, described how he called his daughter "princess".

"Krystle was the light of my life," William Campbell Jr. said, "every father's dream."

He wiped away tears with a handkerchief, his voice growing hoarse as he described how she "wasn't really a girly-girl" and preferred baseball over other activities.


Earlier yesterday, prosecutors showed the jury a photo of a wounded Krystle writhing in agony on the ground, her mouth agape.

Gillian Reny told the jury she was an 18-year-old high school senior when she went to watch her sister run her first marathon. She said the first blast knocked her to the ground, and when she looked down, she could see her legs were covered in blood, and a bone that had snapped in half was sticking out.

"Muscle was everywhere. It was the most horrifying image I could even imagine ... and to see that on my own body was terrifying," she said, breaking down in tears. Doctors managed to save both legs.

Slouching in his seat at the defence table as usual, Tsarnaev stared straight ahead and showed no reaction during the proceedings.

He did not appear to look at any of the witnesses.

Prosecutors have argued that Tsarnaev was a full partner with his brother and deserves the ultimate punishment.

"His destiny was determined by him, and he was destined and determined to be America's worst nightmare," Pellegrini said. She described the killings as "unbearable, indescribable, inexcusable and senseless".


With enlarged photographs of the victims behind her in the courtroom, the prosecutor told the jury: "They were all beautiful, and they're all now gone."

"You know how they died. Now you need to know how they lived," she said. "You need to know and to understand why their lives mattered."

In a dramatic finish to her opening statement, Pellegrini placed between the victims' photographs the picture of Tsarnaev extending his middle finger. The security-camera image was taken three months after his arrest.

"He had one more message to send," the prosecutor said.

The photo was not immediately released to the media because the prosecution has yet to authenticate it in court and enter it into evidence.

A dozen people protesting against the death penalty demonstrated outside the courthouse yesterday morning.