BOSTON - Celebrated defence lawyer Judy Clarke will launch her bid Monday to save 21-year-old convicted killer Dzhokhar Tsarnaev from the death penalty for bombing the Boston Marathon in 2013.
Clarke, one of America's best-known death penalty experts, will make an opening statement and present witnesses in the penalty phase of the trial that will see Tsarnaev sentenced to death or life in prison.
The April 15, 2013 double bombing killed three people and wounded 264 others in one of the deadliest attacks in the United States since 9/11.
Tsarnaev was convicted on all 30 counts this month by the 12-person jury that will now determine his fate: execution or life without parole.
The defence will plead extenuating circumstances and do everything to humanize the young Muslim of Chechen origin, who moved with his family from Kyrgyzstan to Dagestan to the United States as a young child.
He was scared of and manipulated by his radical, older brother Tamerlan, 26, the true mastermind of the attacks, they will argue.
Tamerlan was shot dead by police while the pair were on the run.
If anyone can get Tsarnaev off the death penalty, experts believe it is Clarke, in her early 60s, and a tireless opponent of capital punishment.
"That's her specialty," said Robert Bloom, professor at Boston College Law School. "She knows how to do it, she is possibly the best lawyer in the country (for that)," he added.
Over the last 20 years she has saved some of America's most notorious killers from death: Susan Smith who drowned her two children; "Unabomber" serial murderer Theodore Kaczynski; Zacarias Moussaoui, convicted over the 9/11 attacks; Eric Rudolph, who bombed the 1996 Atlanta Olympics; and Jared Lee Loughner, who shot Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona in 2011.
She knows how to humanize her clients. She unmasks their sufferings, and their social and family backgrounds. She does not excuse but she seeks to understand and to explain.
"None of us, including those accused of crime, wants to be defined by the worst moment, or worst day of our lives," she told the magazine of the Washington and Lee University School of Law, where she taught, in 2010.
In court, she cuts an ordinary if dowdy figure. She wears conservative clothes and no makeup. Unlike many lawyers, she does not court the press.
But to prosecutors she is ruthless, demolishing their arguments when she can, brick by brick.
Last week in court, prosecutors got a taste of what may come from Clarke, who heads up a defence team of five.
The government showed a screenshot of Tsarnaev sticking up his middle finger to a surveillance camera before his first court appearance.
"This is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, unconcerned, unrepentant and unchanged," said assistant US attorney Nadine Pellegrini, describing his crude salute as the killer's "message" to America.
But the defence used the surveillance footage to put the photograph in context.
The video showed Tsarnaev pacing the confines of his cell, approach the camera, fix his hair by looking at his reflection and flash the victory sign before flipping the bird for the briefest of moments.
He waited in that cell for four hours with nothing to do and the defence said the gesture was nothing more sinister than usual adolescent behaviour.
Convince one juror
Tsarnaev, thin and pale, has sat between two women lawyers for the duration of the trial. They speak to him frequently, from time to time placing a comforting hand on his shoulder.
He has never shown the slightest emotion, even during the most harrowing testimony, and refuses to look at his victims, many of whom have walked on prosthetic limbs to the witness box.
Another tack may be to ask the jury to choose prison rather the death so as not to satisfy the Islamist extremist's supposed longed-for state of martyrdom.
Many people in the state of Massachusetts also oppose the death penalty, even if the 12 jurors were chosen partly because they were prepared to consider capital punishment in this case.
Jurors have to agree unanimously on the death penalty, which applies to 17 of 30 counts on which he has been convicted. If even one hesitates, Tsarnaev will spend the rest of his life behind bars.
"She only has to convince one juror and she knows it," said Bloom.
From the start, Clarke has sought to win their trust, admitting at the trial opening that her client was guilty and asking the jury only to keep their minds open as to why he committed the crime.