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Saturday, June 15, 2024 | Back issues
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‘It Was Him,’ Attorney for|Boston Marathon Bomber Tsarnaev Says

BOSTON (CN) - The Boston Marathon bombing trial kicked off on Wednesday with the defense attempting to paint Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as a mere marionette controlled his maniacal older brother.

Tsarnaev, 21, faces 30 counts of criminal acts, 17 of which carry the death penalty, for his role in largest terrorist attack in the United States since Sept. 11, 2001, as well as the measures he took while trying to escape: murdering a cop, a carjacking, and a shootout with police.

The defendant's brother, Tamerlan, died in the manhunt that ensued after their bombing of the 2013 Boston Marathon left three dead and 264 injured.

In the courtroom Wednesday, Tsarnaev was the only man not wearing a tie. He slouched over the defense table, cradling his face in his right hand, looking rather uninterested. Although his posture shifted, his countenance would not change throughout the day. Dozens of people, many of them survivors, filled the courtroom, with the four overflow room designated for the public and press.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William Weinreb began his opening statements Wednesday by describing the scene in Boston on April 15, 2013, before the pair of homemade pressure-cooker bombs at the marathon's finish line detonated at 2:49 p.m. It was a beautiful Monday, a holiday, Patriots Day. Families bustled about, and a victory at Fenway for the Red Sox emptied even more people onto the crowded sidewalks.

Weinreb described a row of children standing in front of a restaurant watching the marathon. Tsarnaev approached them. His thick, dark, curly hair sprouting out from underneath a white baseball cap casually turned backward, as a video from the restaurant would later show when Weinreb played it.

"Looking at the backs of children," Weinreb said is when Tsarnaev found the spot to leave his backpack that concealed a bomb "designed to tear people apart, shred flesh, shatter bone."

"He wanted to punish the U.S. for mistreating Muslims," Weinreb said, the first time addressing Tsarnaev's alleged motive.

"The bomb detonated with a deafening roar and created a fireball several stories high," Weinreb continued.

Juxtaposed against jovial photos of the victims, Weinreb gave a gruesome soliloquy on the final moments of each of the three people killed.

Martin Richard, 8, was one of the children in front of the restaurant. By the time he arrived at the morgue, he had no blood left in him. In the photo shown to the courtroom, however, he smiled as only a child on the Tooth Fairy's speed dial might.

Lingzi Lu, a 23-year-old Chinese graduate student with a passion for music, tried to push the insides she saw lying next to her back inside. She, like Richard, bled to death on the sidewalk. She was in a cafe in her photo, smiling genuinely at the photographer, who captured the soft light enveloping her from behind.

Krystle Campbell, 29, was a restaurant manager, waiting for her boyfriend to cross the finish line. When the bomb went off, she was left with gaping wounds in her torso and legs. A friend, Karen Rand McWatters, held Campbell's hand until she passed. In the picture shown, she is wearing a Patriot's jersey, and has an arm draped over the back of a portable chair one would bring to a tailgate party.

"There were a lot of heroes that day," Weinreb said of the three-block crime scene covered in blood, human remains, and hundreds of pieces of scrap metal.


And then there was Tsarnaev, who drove to Whole Foods after the attacks and bought a gallon of milk. The prosecution plans to show surveillance video of how he took his time in the aisles, and even exchanged it for another after checking out.

"He believed what he had done was good," Weinreb said.

Police found the shredded backpacks and remnants of the bombs and discovered though the videos and photos that it was two men seen wearing them before the attacks who wrecked havoc on the festivities.

After struggling to identify the men for three days, authorities released the pictures to the public. This call for help sent the brothers on the run, Weineb said, noting that they planned to go to New York City with hopes of leaving more bombs.

The court will see grainy footage of the duo approaching the police cruiser of Sean Collier, a 27-year-old police officer for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Weinreb said. The brothers drove away leaving Collier, described as a friendly guy who took an active role in the students' lives, with two bullets in his temple, one in the middle of his forehead, and three in his right hand.

They arrived later at a Shell station, with Dzhokhar in his Honda Civic and Tamerlan in a Mercedes SUV he had carjacked, Weinreb said. As Dzhokhar shopped for snacks at the gas station and Tamerlan fiddled with the GPS system, the owner of that stolen vehicle managed to escape and call 911.

Police used the SUV's navigation system to track the terrorists to a quiet residential street in Watertown just outside Boston.

As a cop approached them, Weinreb said, the brothers exited their vehicles and opened fire. Responding to a call for backup, another officer got out of his car, left it in gear and moved slowly toward the brothers.

The Tsarnaevs had added pipe and pressure-cooker bombs to the arsenal they hurled, with the officers returning fire from behind the moving squad car they used as a shield.

"Massive fireballs blew into homes and residents howled in terror," Weinreb said.

After he ran out of ammo, Tamerlan threw his gun at police, who tackled him. Before they could handcuff him, however, Dzhokhar got into the Mercedes and tried to mow the police down. Tamerlan was the one he hit.

"He cared more about killing cops than his brother's life" Weinreb said. "He dragged his body 50 feet before side-swiping a cruiser, shaking his brother loose."

Weinreb described how police blocked off the area and brought search dogs into the massive manhunt. The next day authorities apprehended Dzhokhar from a boat parked in a Watertown family's back yard where he had spent the night, bleeding from bullet wounds.

Authorities had to use a hostage negotiator to get Dzhokhar out. They found a confession scrawled onto the wall of the boat. Gloves in Tsarnaev's Civic meanwhile had Collier's blood on them.

Not bothering to dispute the prosecutor's damning opener, defense attorney Judy Clarke quickly verbalized the mood in the courtroom.

"It was him," Clark said. "You might say, so why a trial?"

Emphasizing the penalty phase that will follow, Clark said her client "must be held responsible, but he came to his role from a different path than the one suggested by the prosecution.

"He was in a tough time in adolescence, which we all know, being vulnerable to the influence of his brother," the attorney continued.

Describing Dzhokhar as an average college sophomore, Clark said he "spent most of his time doing what teenagers do."

Video games, Facebook and girls occupied Dzhokhar; it was his brother, Tamerlan, who had become obsessed with radical Islam.

"We ask you to look further," Clark pleaded with the jury. She described how Tamerlan was the one who led the way to the finish line at the Boston Marathon, the one who killed the MIT cop, the one who pointed the gun at the man whose car they stole. "Tamerlan threw his gun at police, determined not to be taken alive. Dzhokhar fled and hid in a boat."

After 20 minutes Clark brought her statement to a close. "None of you would be sitting here today if you could not remain open through this first phase [of the trial]," she said. "It will not be an easy task, but hold you hearts and minds open to thinking about evidence all the way."

Five witnesses took the stand.

Thomas Grilk, executive director of the Boston Athletic Association, described how the marathon grew from 15 people to tens of thousands.

The next witness, Marathon Sports manager Shane O'Hara, recognized himself in the video of the explosions. He used clothing from the store to tie off severed limbs. Visibly holding back tears, O'Hara recalled the smell of burned hair and the sight of blood.

Each new detail brought another layer of still quiet to the courtroom.

Colton Kilgore, a North Carolina man who recorded the unfolding terror, followed.

"You're going to see a lot of chaos," he said, as the prosecution played his footage of just that: people running, crying, glass crunching, smoke, blood.

Next was Rebekah Gregory, a spectator who had her leg amputated after 17 surgeries. She said she thought she was going to die that day. "My bones were literally laying next to me on the sidewalk," Gregory said.

Another injured spectator, Sydney Corcoran, said she had no idea what has happening when the bombs exploded. "How could this be real? Everything was so happy," she said.

Karen Rand McWatters, the friend of Campbell's who held her hand as she died, also took the stand. "She said her legs hurt, then her hand went limp in mine, and she never spoke again." Prosecutors showed a picture of the two women together before the race. McWatters lost her leg below the knee.

Tsarnaev's attorneys did not cross-examine any of the witnesses.

The trial is expected to last through June.

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