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“You know how Krystle, Lingzi, Martin, and Sean died,” Nadine Pellegrini ’78 told jurors in her opening statement during the sentencing phase of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the brothers responsible for the Boston marathon bombing in 2013.
“Now you need to know how they lived. You need to know and understand why their lives mattered.”
She then uncovered large photos, sitting on easels, of the four people killed – this included a police officer who was shot dead by the brothers (Tsarnaev’s brother was also killed during the chase).
Pellegrini, an assistant U.S. attorney at the time, was seeking the death penalty. She was part of a team that already convinced a jury that Tsarnaev was guilty on all 30 counts which included killing four people, and injuring more than 250, many who lost limbs. Seventeen counts carried the federal death penalty.
Pellegrini had worked on the case full time for 2.5 years, including most weekends. “During the trial, it seemed like the whole world was watching. Reporters followed us everywhere.”
Her family went on summer vacations without her. “It was my choice to take the case,” she told a group of students during a lunchtime talk in the Career and Professional Development Center. “We just didn’t know it would take so long.”
One of numerous alumni profiles in the upcoming Summer 2017
Albany Law Magazine
“I was asked to be on the case because I worked well with victims, and I happened to have a good feel for juries,” she told the students. Pellegrini started working with the victims and families shortly after the marathon. “Their injuries were still new, some weren’t yet fitted for their prosthetic devices,” she said. “Emotions were still raw, they had not settled into their new lives yet, and I had to speak to them and start the process for the trial.”
Some families didn’t want the death penalty, they just wanted him put away, she said. “They wanted him to disappear. I had to explain that the United States was seeking the death penalty, for a lot of reasons.”
“They [the defense team] brought on a lot of witnesses who thought highly of the defendant,” Pellegrini said. “He was adored by some, and it was our job to bring them back to our narrative, to put their story into our story.”
For example, Pellegrini showed a blown up image of Tsarnaev giving the middle finger to a jail security camera. “This is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, unconcerned, unrepentant, and unchanged,” she told the jury. “Without remorse, he remains untouched by the grief and the loss that he caused.”
The jury determined that death was the appropriate sentence on 6 of the 17 capital counts. Tsarnaev is currently on death row, working to appeal his sentence.
After 25 years at the U.S. Attorney’s office in Boston, Pellegrini took a new job last year as director of advocacy for the Animal Rescue League of Boston. “This has always been my passion,” she said, noting that one of her favorite roles as a federal prosecutor was working with the agents at the Fish and Wildlife Service, which sent her to Ukraine to investigate ivory smugglers.
She earned her M.S. in Animals and Public Policy at Tufts University’s veterinary school. Some of her work includes legislation to:
•Intervene earlier when an animal is at risk of injury or death;
•Amend the current law that allows a person to chain animals for 24 consecutive hours;
•Punish violators who leave their pets in vehicles during extreme hot or cold weather and allow first responders to intervene and rescue an animal from a dangerous situation.
She started her career in the Monroe County, N.Y., District Attorney’s Office and then served as Chief of Special Prosecutions for the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office before joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office.