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Graphic Testimony Marks Boston Marathon Bombing Trial So Far

ARUN RATH, HOST:

The city of Boston is reliving the horror in vivid detail of the week nearly two years ago when four people were killed and hundreds injured after two bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon. The trial of the admitted bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, just finished its first full week in federal court. NPR's Tovia Smith has been in the courtroom all week and joins us now. Tovia, welcome to the program.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Thank you.

RATH: First, from all accounts, the trial ended this week on a very dramatic note.

SMITH: Just completely riveting - it - even knowing the story and how it ends, my heart was racing as this young man, Dung Meng from China, described being carjacked by the Tsarnaev brothers while they were on the run and how Tamerlan, the older brother, pointed a gun at him and said, you know about the Boston Marathon explosion? I did it, and I just killed a policeman, he said.

And Meng described how terrified he was. He said, the whole world was looking for them. I couldn't believe they were in my car, he said. He was shaking so much, he could barely drive. Then, after more than an hour, they pulled into a gas station and Meng decided it was now or never, and he made a run for it. And you can see on the surveillance video, him bolting across the street to another gas station and begging the clerk there to call 911. We have tape of that call, and you can hear Meng absolutely panicked, struggling to explain that he was just in a car with the marathon bombers.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DUNG MENG: (Unintelligible).

UNIDENTIFIED OPERATOR: They what?

MENG: They are the suspects of the marathon explosion.

SMITH: Just terrifying - a horrific ordeal.

RATH: Wow, and that capped off the week of - already, there was just gruesome testimony, right?

SMITH: Indeed. Just before the carjacking, there was the murder of a campus police officer shot between the eyes at point-blank range, and the brothers tried to steal his gun. Before that, just excruciating stories from the marathon itself - truly horrifying. And through most of it, really, the defendant just sat slumped in his chair, looking away mostly.

RATH: And Tovia, as we said, the defendant Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has admitted to being responsible for this. So what are defense attorneys doing as these witnesses are telling these stories?

SMITH: Mostly nothing, just listening. They said on day one we're not going to try and sidestep responsibility for this. They want to save their credibility with jurors for when they really need it, which would be after a conviction at sentencing when they want to convince jurors to spare Tsarnaev's life. They say Dzhokhar was under the sway of his older brother, who was the real violent Islamist extremist. So their only cross-examination is when they're trying to distinguish the two.

For example, they asked the carjacking victim, isn't it true you only saw Tamerlan with a gun, not Dzhokhar? Isn't it true Tamerlan was the one threatening to kill you and Dzhokhar was just asking about how to get his music to play in the car? They also challenged a lot of Dzhokhar's messages on social media, trying to show them to be not really as radical sounding as prosecutors made them out to be.

RATH: So what can we expect to hear next week?

SMITH: We'll hear about the car going to Watertown and the violent shootout with police there, then the lockdown and the manhunt for Dzhokhar, who was found the next night hiding in a boat with a note that explained the attack as retribution for Muslims being killed overseas.

RATH: NPR's Tovia Smith in Boston. Tovia, thank you.

SMITH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.