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Prosecutor: Tsarnaev Believed He Was Soldier in 'Holy War'

Tom Winter and Jon Schuppe

Nearly two years after twin blasts rocked the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring scores more, alleged bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev appeared before a jury Wednesday as the lead prosecutor accused him of believing he was "a soldier in a holy war against Americans" and a defense lawyer acknowledged that Tsarnaev's actions were "inexcusable."

In opening statements, Assistant U.S. Attorney William Weinreb painted a detailed picture of the moments before the attack, with thousands gathered along the race sidelines as a Boston Red Sox game let out. Weinreb also outlined a portrait of Tsarnaev as duplicitous, someone who kept his violent tendencies secret from his closest friends. He joined the spectators that day, but "he wasn't there to watch the marathon. He had a backpack over his shoulder and inside that backpack he had a bomb," Weinreb said.

That bomb, made of a pressure cooker, as "the type of bomb preferred by terrorists," Weinreb said.

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Tsarnaev, wearing a striped shirt and dark blue sports jacket, sat motionless and stared forward as Weinreb walked jurors through the prosecution's account. The jurors remained riveted on the prosecutor.

Weinreb charged that Tsarnaev walked in front of the Forum restaurant, and set the backpack "right behind a row of children." One of those children, 8-year-old Martin Richard, would die from the blast after Tsarnaev allegedly used a remote control to detonate the bomb.

Members of the legal defense team for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, arrive at Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse during the first day of the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trial on March 4, 2015 in Boston.
Getty Images

The visceral imagery in the trial's opening minutes was just a piece of what is expected to be a painstaking retelling of an attack that will reawaken horrific memories and raise the possibility of a death penalty case in a state that hasn't executed anyone since 1947.

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Family members of victims of the marathon attack — along with relatives of Tsarnaev — took seats in the packed federal courtroom. To Tsarnaev's left sat 12 jurors and six alternates, chosen in a two-month selection process that included multiple requests by defense lawyers to move the trail out of Boston, where they said Tsarnaev couldn't get a fair trial in a city where nearly everyone was impacted by the bombing or its aftermath.

The trial is expected to hinge less on Tsarnaev's guilt — to be determined in the first phase — as much as whether he gets the death penalty — to be determined in the second phase.

Prosecutors say the bombings were the result of a deliberate plan hatched by Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan. Defense lawyers counter that Tsarnaev was manipulated by his brother, the plot's mastermind, who died in a shootout with police.

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The April 15, 2013 bombs, made out of pressure cookers and placed in backpacks in the crowd about a block apart at the race's final stretch, killed three people: 29-year-old Krystle Campbell, 8-year-old Martin William Richard and 23-year-old Lingzi Lu. In the manhunt that followed, an MIT police officer, Sean Collier, 26, was shot to death allegedly by the brothers.

Four days after the attack, Tsarnaev, 19 at the time, was found hiding in a boat stored in a backyard, wounded by police gunfire.

Weinreb, in his opening statements, led jurors through what he described as Tsarnaev's increasing attraction to Islamic militancy in the months before the attack: an interest in "terrorists' music and songs," researching bomb-making, collecting a "virtually complete" library of Inspire, an al Qaeda linked magazine, the purchase of a handgun.

The prosecutor also walked jurors through the government's version of the hunt for the Tsarnaev brothers in the days after the bombing: the killing of Collier with a shot between the eyes, the carjacking of an SUV, a police chase, a gunfight in which the brothers tossed two pressure-cooker bombs at officers. "It exploded with a thunderous boom and shrapnel rained down on the officers," Weinreb said.

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