BOSTON — Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's lawyers rested their case Monday in their bid to save him from execution after death penalty opponent Sister Helen Prejean testified that Tsarnaev expressed genuine sorrow for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.
"No one deserves to suffer like they did," Prejean quoted him as saying.
The prosecution wrapped up its case as well Monday. The two sides will return on Wednesday to give closing arguments, after which the federal jury will decide whether the 21-year-old Tsarnaev should be put to death or receive life in prison.
Prejean, a Roman Catholic nun whose story was told in the 1995 movie "Dead Man Walking" starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn, met with Tsarnaev five times since March at the request of the defense.
Prejean, who smiled at Tsarnaev several times during her testimony, said she could hear "pain" in his voice when he said he regretted what happened to the victims in the 2013 attack, which left three people dead and more than 260 wounded, including 17 who lost limbs.
"I had every reason to think that he was taking it in and that he was genuinely sorry for what he did," Prejean testified as the final witness for the defense in the penalty phase of the trial.
Prosecutors had fought to keep Prejean off the witness stand, but the judge allowed her to testify.
During cross-examination by prosecutor William Weinreb, Prejean acknowledged that she is considered one of the leading death penalty opponents in the country and that she believes no one deserves to be executed, no matter what the crime.
Liz Norden, the mother of brothers J.P. and Paul Norden, who each lost a leg in the bombings, was unmoved by what Prejean had to say about Tsarnaev.
"If he was that remorseful, then he should have gotten up on the stand and said how sorry he is," Norden said. "To have other people get up and talk on his behalf, it means nothing to me."
Tsarnaev was convicted during the guilt-or-innocence phase of the trial of all 30 charges against him, including 17 that carry the possibility of the death penalty. He did not take the stand during either phase of the case.
The 12-member jury must be unanimous for him to get the death penalty. If even one juror votes against execution, he will be sentenced to life in prison.
The defense team called more than 40 witnesses during the penalty phase in hope of convincing the jury that Tsarnaev was a "good kid" who fell under the influence of his radical older brother, Tamerlan. Tamerlan, 26, died in a getaway attempt days after the bombing.
Dzhokhar's teachers recalled a sweet, hardworking boy, while his Russian family members wept as they described a kind and gentle child who cried during "The Lion King." A psychiatrist said Tsarnaev's father struggled with severe post-traumatic stress disorder, while others described a mother who became obsessed with religion.
During their case, prosecutors called bombing victims who gave heartbreaking testimony about watching loved ones die or having their legs blown off. The government portrayed Tsarnaev as a full partner with his brother in the attack and someone so heartless that he planted a bomb behind a group of children, killing 8-year-old Martin Richard.
After Tsarnaev's lawyers rested their case, prosecutors called rebuttal witnesses, including the warden of the federal penitentiary where he is likely to be sent if he is sentenced to life.
John Oliver, warden of the prison complex in Florence, Colorado, said inmates in the special security unit of the Supermax prison there can earn a college degree, write a book and send and receive an unlimited number of letters.
Oliver went through a list of privileges would have, including 30 minutes of phone calls per month and a minimum of 10 hours of recreation per week.
The testimony was aimed at countering efforts by Tsarnaev's lawyers to assure the jury that his life behind bars would be harsh if he were spared execution.