Boston Court Fills Up as Victims Await Bomb Suspect Plea
Lines formed outside a Boston courtroom hours before Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, accused of the first deadly terrorist bombing in the U.S. since Sept. 11, 2001, is to enter a plea on charges he killed three Boston Marathon spectators and shot a police officer to death.
About half of the 110 seats in the courtroom are reserved for victims and their families and a separate overflow room has been set aside for them, where the hearing this afternoon -- his first public appearance in a courtroom since he was charged -- can be watched on closed-circuit television.
Law enforcement personnel who worked with Sean Collier, a 26-year-old police officer who was allegedly killed by Tsarnaev, are also scheduled to attend. Ten police officers conducted a security sweep of the courtroom six hours before the start of the hearing. The murder trial of reputed crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger is taking place in an adjacent courtroom.
Lacey Buckley, 23, was among a half dozen Tsarnaev supporters -- mostly young women -- outside the courtroom who waited for a seat hours before the start of the hearing. The resident of Wenatchee, Washington, who said she traveled alone to Boston for the hearing, said she hasn’t seen enough evidence to believe Tsarnaev is the bomber.
“They almost murdered a kid who was unarmed,” said Buckley, who runs a website supporting Tsarnaev. She wore a black T-shirt with the words “Free the Lion, July 10.” Tsarnaev used a photo of a lion on his Twitter account.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler will read the charges against Tsarnaev and explain to the 19-year-old former college student the range of penalties he may face, including a death sentence, if a jury finds him guilty.
The arraignment will come about two weeks after a U.S. grand jury that heard detailed evidence from investigators in secret returned a 30-count indictment against the Russian immigrant.
Duke LaTouf, 33, said he traveled from Las Vegas to attend the hearing because he believes Tsarnaev was framed. He said he believes the government carried out the bombing as a test run for eventually seizing all the guns in the country.
Kim Napoli of Boston, whose daughters, ages 1 and 3, were near the bomb sites the day of the attack, also waited at the courtroom entrance for a seat. Her children were uninjured but continue to suffer from nightmares, she said.
“She was robbed of her innocence that day,” Napoli said of her elder daughter. “She knows things can go wrong. She thinks a marathon is people running away.”
“They seem young,” Napoli said of Tsarnaev’s supporters. “They seem obsessed, like people who need something to do. Some young girls like the bad boy.”
Tsarnaev killed two women and an 8-year-old boy and injured 260 people April 15 with bombs left in crowds near the marathon’s finish line, prosecutors said. He was inspired by al-Qaeda and motivated by the U.S. military’s killing of Muslim civilians, the government said.
Tsarnaev is also charged in the 74-page indictment with the death of Collier, a 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 Tamerlan, 26, who is suspected of carrying out the bombing with him.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s personal computer held instructions for making bombs with pressure cookers and powder from fireworks, as well as files related to al-Qaeda and jihad, according to the indictment. He also wrote notes saying that while Islam condemns murder, the bombing was justified because of the actions of the U.S. government, prosecutors said
Tsarnaev, an ethnic Chechen now a U.S. citizen, will probably plead not guilty and won’t use today’s hearing as a public forum to lash out at authorities or shout in court about his beliefs, said James Lawson, a lawyer at Prince Lobel Tye LLP in Boston who has practiced criminal law for 40 years.
“Although attorneys cannot control all clients at all times, I would anticipate that the proceeding will go smoothly, by the book and without interruption,” Lawson said.
Today’s hearing was initially scheduled for May 30. It was pushed back after defense lawyers asked for more time to review evidence. U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz agreed to the delay.
Tsarnaev’s defense team includes the San Diego lawyer Judy Clarke, who specializes in death-penalty cases and represented “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski and 1996 Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph. The U.S. hasn’t said whether it will seek a death sentence for Tsarnaev.
The “clock hasn’t started” for the government to decide to seek the death penalty, Christina DiIorio-Sterling, a spokeswoman for Ortiz, said in an interview today. “It’s obviously quite a process.”
Tsarnaev’s lawyers on May 20 won a court ruling giving them access to their client’s suicide watch logs in jail and other data kept to track his behavior behind bars.
The judge, who ruled in response to a sealed defense motion, gave the government access to the same files. The prison where Tsarnaev is being held is also required to give defense lawyers his daily activity logs and psychology files.
Bowler denied a request that defense attorneys be allowed to take periodic photographs of Tsarnaev as evidence of “his evolving mental and physical state.” The judge ruled that prison staff will take the pictures and share them with both sides.
Tsarnaev’s lawyers argued the images would show his “injuries over time” and might be used in arguments about whether his earlier statements to authorities were made voluntarily. Bowler didn’t specify which statements the legal team was referring to in the sealed request.
Tsarnaev was questioned by federal agents in the hospital over about two days before being informed of his right to remain silent and seek legal counsel. The delay was permitted as part of a public-safety exception to reading suspects their rights before questioning.
Tsarnaev’s initial court appearance was held on April 22 in his hospital room after his questioning. He was wounded in the head, neck, legs and hand in gunfights with the police. He is now in the Federal Medical Center Devens, a lockup in Ayer, Massachusetts.
Bowler angered some conservative lawmakers in Washington by advising Tsarnaev of his constitutional rights at the start of the hospital hearing. The Justice Department said protocol had been followed. The case is to be tried before U.S. District Judge George O’Toole in Boston.
O’Toole last year sentenced Tarek Mehanna, a pharmacy-school graduate who was born in Massachusetts and attended Boston College and Harvard Law School, to 17 1/2 years in prison for writing al-Qaeda recruitment materials on the Web. His lawyer J.W. Carney appealed the conviction and sentence.
Three days after the Boston Marathon bombing, the FBI released pictures of the Tsarnaev brothers taken near the scene of the blasts, before authorities had identified them. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s friends recognized him, prosecutors said.
That night the brothers armed themselves with five homemade bombs, a gun, ammunition, a machete and a hunting knife and drove to the MIT campus, prosecutors said. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, along with his brother, shot Collier and tried to steal his gun, prosecutors said.
The Tsarnaevs then carjacked a Mercedes and stole $800 from the driver using his ATM card and forced him to drive them to a gas station, the U.S. said. They told the driver they planned to drive to Manhattan before he escaped, the government said
Police officers located the brothers with the vehicle and engaged in a shootout, during which the siblings threw four of the explosives at authorities, the U.S. said. Three officers eventually tackled Tamerlan Tsarnaev after he was shot and tried to handcuff him.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev ran over his brother while driving away, contributing to his death, the U.S. said.
Tsarnaev eluded the police by hiding in a 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 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, known as the “Father of the Global Jihad,” the U.S. said.
According to the indictment, in the weeks before the attack the brothers bought dozens of fireworks and 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 case is U.S. v. Tsarnaev, 13-10200, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).
To contact the reporters on this story: Erik Larson in Boston federal court at firstname.lastname@example.org; Janelle Lawrence in Boston federal court at email@example.com.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at firstname.lastname@example.org.