Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the accused Boston Marathon bomber, was charged by a grand jury with setting off homemade bombs that killed three spectators and then shooting a university police officer to death.
The indictment filed yesterday in federal court in Boston offers new details about the April 15 attack, including a list of files related to al-Qaeda and jihad found on Tsarnaev’s computer. He also allegedly wrote notes saying he was motivated by the U.S. military’s killing of Muslim civilians and that he didn’t want “such evil” to go unpunished.
“The defendant’s alleged conduct forever changed the lives of the victims” and their families, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said yesterday at a press conference in Boston. “This community has shown extraordinary resilience in the face of this senseless violence.”
Tsarnaev, 19, is accused of detonating two bombs made with pressure cookers and explosive powder from fireworks hidden in backpacks near the marathon’s finish line, killing two women and an 8-year-old boy and injuring more than 260. His brother Tamerlan, 26, who later died after a shootout with police, is suspected of carrying out the attack with him.
About half the charges in yesterday’s indictment carry a maximum sentence of life in prison or the death penalty, Ortiz said. Tsarnaev is scheduled to appear in court for the first time July 10 for his arraignment.
Federal Public Defender Miriam Conrad, one of Tsarnaev’s lawyers, said yesterday that she hadn’t read the indictment yet and couldn’t comment.
The government will now deliberate on whether to seek the death penalty -- a decision that must be made by Attorney General Eric Holder, said J. Richard Broughton, a former Justice Department lawyer who now teaches law at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.
“Based on the seriousness of the charges” in the indictment and “the strength of the evidence against Tsarnaev, I think there is a very strong possibility that the government will choose to seek the death penalty,” said Broughton, who was in the department’s capital-case unit from 2005 to 2008.
Tsarnaev was initially charged on April 22, based on information in the sworn statement of Daniel Genck, a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The 30-count federal indictment is based on the decisions of a citizen grand jury that heard evidence from investigators in secret.
The indictment expands the U.S.’s case by charging Tsarnaev in the death of Sean Collier, a 26-year-old police officer for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. Collier’s shooting at point-blank range on the evening of April 18 set off an overnight manhunt that led to Tsarnaev’s capture and the death of his brother.
Prosecutors for Middlesex County, where the campus is located, also investigated the attack and filed a separate 15-count indictment yesterday against Tsarnaev over Collier’s death. That case may be tried as a backup measure after the federal case, since the federal indictment also covers Collier’s death.
Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley, whose jurisdiction covers Boston, also agreed to let federal prosecutors lead.
“The most appropriate place to prosecute Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is right here in the federal court,” Conley said at the press conference yesterday. “Any further potential prosecution on the state level would be symbolic.”
Three days after the bombing, the FBI released pictures of the Tsarnaev brothers taken near the scene of the blasts, though authorities hadn’t yet identified the men. The images showed one suspect wearing a black hat, and the other a white hat. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s friends recognized him, prosecutors say.
That night, the brothers armed themselves with five improvised explosive devices, a gun, ammunition, a machete and a hunting knife and drove their Honda Civic to the MIT campus, according to the U.S. There, they allegedly shot Collier in the head at close range and tried to steal his service weapon.
The Tsarnaev brothers then carjacked a Mercedes and stole $800 from the driver using his ATM card and forced him to drive them to a gas station, according to the indictment. They told the driver they planned to drive to Manhattan before he escaped, the U.S. said.
Police later located the Tsarnaevs with the vehicle and engaged in a shootout, during which the brothers threw four of the explosive devices at authorities, the U.S. said. Three officers eventually tackled Tamerlan Tsarnaev after he was shot and tried to handcuff him.
“Dzhokhar Tsarnaev then re-entered the carjacked vehicle and drove it directly at the officers, running over his brother as he managed to escape,” the U.S. said. Tsarnaev almost hit an officer who was attempting to drag Tamerlan to safety, according to the indictment.
Tsarnaev eluded police during the ensuing citywide manhunt by hiding in a dry-docked boat in the backyard of a suburban Boston home. He wrote messages on the wall and beams of the boat, the U.S. said.
“The U.S. government is killing our innocent civilians” and “I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished,” he wrote, according to the indictment. He also wrote, “We Muslims are one body, you hurt one you hurt us all” and “Now I don’t like killing innocent people it is forbidden in Islam but due to said [unintelligible] it is allowed,” the U.S. said.
Tsarnaev downloaded to his computer a copy of the al-Qaeda online magazine Inspire, which had detailed instructions for building an explosive out of a pressure cooker or sections of pipe, explosive powder from fireworks and shrapnel, according to prosecutors.
He also downloaded a digital copy of a book with a foreword by Anwar Al-Awlaki, the al-Qaeda propagandist killed by a U.S. drone in Yemen in September 2011, and a publication called “Defense of Muslim Lands, the First Obligation After Imam,” by Abdullah Azzman, who is also known as the “Father of the Global Jihad,” the U.S. said.
According to the indictment, Tamerlan Tsarnaev went to Phantom Fireworks in Seabrook, New Hampshire, around Feb. 6 and purchased 48 mortars that held about eight pounds of low explosive power.
The next month, the brothers traveled to a firing range in Manchester, New Hampshire, where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev rented two 9mm handguns and bought 200 rounds of ammunition and engaged in target practice for about an hour, the U.S. said.
The case is U.S. v. Tsarnaev, 13-10200, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).