BOSTON — The life-or-death phase in the trial of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev got underway Tuesday with a prosecutor showing the jury a photo of Tsarnaev giving the finger to a security camera in his jail cell three months after the attack.
"This is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev — unconcerned, unrepentant and unchanged," Nadine Pellegrini told the jurors who will decide whether the 21-year-old Tsarnaev should be executed.
"He had one more message to send," the prosecutor said.
The government then began calling to the stand what is expected to be a long line of witnesses who lost legs or loved ones in the April 15, 2013, bombing that killed three people and wounded more than 260. An MIT police officer was shot to death days later as Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, tried to get away.
The first witness was Celeste Corcoran, who made her way to the stand on two artificial limbs. She told the jury that the blast hurled her into the air and left her in such excruciating pain that she wanted to die.
"I remember hearing just blood-curdling screams. I just remember looking around, just seeing blood everywhere, sort of like debris falling from the sky," Corcoran said.
Corcoran said her husband, Kevin, immediately began applying pressure to her legs, then tied tourniquets using his belt and a belt he got from another man.
"I just remember thinking how awful this was and how this had to stop. This couldn't be real, couldn't be real," she said.
Corcoran said she quickly regained her resolve to live when she thought of her family.
"Then I was saying, 'Hell, no, I can't die,'" she said. "'I have to be there for my kids. I have to be there for my husband. I have too much living to do. Don't let this be the end. How can this be the end?'"
Tsarnaev was convicted earlier this month of all 30 charges against him during the trial's guilt-or-innocence phase.
His lawyers, who will make the case for mercy once the prosecution has put on its witnesses, are expected to portray Tamerlan as the mastermind of the bombing. They say Tsarnaev was a 19-year-old who fell under the evil influence of his domineering brother.
The 12-member jury must be unanimous for Tsarnaev to receive a death sentence; otherwise, he will automatically get life behind bars.
Prosecutors contend Tsarnaev was a full partner with his brother and deserves the ultimate punishment.
With enlarged photographs of the victims behind her in the courtroom, Pellegrini told the jury: "They were all beautiful, and they're all now gone." She described the killings as "unbearable, indescribable, inexcusable and senseless."
"You know how they died. Now you need to know how they lived," the prosecutor said. "You need to know and to understand why their lives mattered."
The photo of Tsarnaev extending his middle finger was not immediately released to the media because the prosecution has yet to authenticate it in court and enter it into evidence.
About a dozen people protesting against the death penalty demonstrated outside the federal courthouse Tuesday morning.
Earlier this week, the parents of the youngest of those killed, 8-year-old Martin Richard, urged prosecutors in a front-page letter in The Boston Globe to take the death penalty off the table.
Also, Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes, a newlywed couple severely wounded in the bombing, said life in prison would be the best outcome to assure that Tsarnaev "disappears from our collective consciousness as soon as possible."