Sister Helen Prejean, a Catholic nun based in New Orleans, took the stand Monday as the last of more than 40 defense witnesses in the penalty phase of the Boston bombing trial.
Prejean, one of the best known anti–death penalty advocates in the country, who became famous when her book Dead Man Walking was made into a major motion picture, told the jury that she met Tsarnaev at prison in March and discussed religion, Tsarnaev’s crimes, and his victims.
Prejean testified that when they discussed the bombing victims, Tsarnaev told her, “No one deserves to suffer like they did.”
"I just had every reason to believe he was taking it in and was genuinely sorry for what he did,” Prejean told the jury.
Prejean said Tsarnaev’s voice “had pain in it.”
The government had tried to block Prejean from testifying, arguing the relevance of her testimony.
On cross-examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Weinreb asked Prejean if her death penalty advocacy group was funded by book sales and speaking engagements. She told him it is.
In her rebuttal, Tsarnaev Attorney Miriam Conrad asked Prejean if the defense was paying her to testify.
“Not a dime,” Prejean said.
After nine days of testimony, Tsarnaev’s team rested its case.
The government called two rebuttal witnesses: FBI agent Michelle Nicolet and Warden John Oliver, from the ADX prison in Florence, Colorado.
Nicolet, a unit chief on the Joint Terrorism Task Force, testified that Tsarnaev's enforced special administrative measures (SAMs) that limit his communication privileges could be lessened over time while he serves a life sentence. However, during cross-examination, Nicolet said that she was not aware of any case where a prisoner's SAMs were completely vacated.
Oliver, who works at the Supermax prison Tsarnaev will likely be sent to if he is sentenced to life without parole, told the jury that ADX is not as bad as the defense portrayed in its opening statement when Tsarnaev attorney David Bruck described the prison as "hell on Earth."
Oliver said that inmates get five social visits per month and unlimited legal visits. Additionally, inmates can have prison jobs and earn college degrees. However, in describing how inmates in a cell block communicate with one another, Oliver said that sometimes prisoners talk through their toilets.
The government rested its case Monday afternoon. Closing arguments in the trial are scheduled for Wednesday.
Michael Hayes is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Mike Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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