WASHINGTON (dpa) – Prosecutors have left no stone unturned in preparing for the trial of the young Chechen immigrant charged with killing four people and injuring scores of others in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings and their aftermath.
Jury selection begins Monday in a federal courtroom in Boston in the highly anticipated prosecution of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (EPA photo below).
He was 19 when he and his brother Tamerlan, 26, allegedly detonated two backpacks with household pressure cookers loaded with explosives, nails and ball bearings, according to the indictment.
They had dropped them among spectators near the marathon finish line on April 15, 2013, then walked away. In addition to the three people killed in the explosions, 264 others were wounded, including dozens who lost one or two limbs.
The fourth person, a security guard, was killed in the ensuing police chase that held the Boston region in lockdown for five days. Tamerlan was also killed in the chase.
Dzhokhar, a US citizen and now 21, will stand alone in the federal courtroom in Boston facing 30 counts, including the use of weapons of mass destruction and bombing a public place resulting in death. He could be sentenced to death if convicted.
If Tsarnaev’s past appearances are any measure, the courtroom will be filled with media, victims’ relatives and injured survivors. Court officials could accommodate the overflow crowd in side rooms where they can watch an internal broadcast.
Jury selection could take two or three weeks. Prosecutors plan to call 80 to 100 witnesses and say the actual trial could take four months. Tsarnaev’s lawyers have signaled that he will be present although he could waive his right to appear. It is unlikely he will take the stand during the trial.
US District Judge George A O’Toole Jr, 67, will preside. In a previous terrorist trial he oversaw the conviction of US-born pharmacist Tarek Mehanna on charges of supporting al-Qaeda.
Leading Tsarnaev’s defence team will be Miriam Conrad, who is recognised as one of the country’s most respected public defenders, according to the Wall Street Journal. Conrad has represented other convicted terrorists, including “shoe bomber” Richard Reid.
The bombings took three lives near the marathon finish line, including that of 8-year-old Martin Richard, who with his sister and parents was enjoying the public marathon holiday. His sister, then age 6, lost her left leg and his mother lost an eye from the flying shrapnel.
The fourth to die was security guard Sean Collier, in a firefight. The brothers also carjacked and kidnapped the driver. During the chase, Tamerlan was wounded and handcuffed by police when Dzhokhar drove over him in an attempt to flee, contributing to his death, the indictment said.
Dzhokhar was found the next day hiding in a drydocked boat and bleeding from firefight injuries.
“The US government is killing our innocent civilians,” he wrote on the boat wall, the indictment said. “I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished. We Muslims are one body, you hurt one you hurt us all.”
Tsarnaev’s transformation from student and wrestling team captain at an elite Boston high school into a violent extremist has puzzled those who knew him – and transfixed the country.
Rolling Stone magazine provoked public outcry by putting a sympathetic image of the attractive Tsarnaev on its front cover and probing his cultural alienation.
His high school wrestling coach, Peter Payack echoed comments from some of Tsarnaev’s family when he said it was nearly impossible to imagine how the sweet boy could have committed such heinous acts.
“I was feeling that if there was any spark of humanity left in him that maybe – if he saw his old wrestling family – he would make a connection,” Payack told dpa at a previous court session.
Just two months before the bombings, Tsarnaev, who was then in college, visited his old teammates at a wrestling practice, joking and hugging his old friends, Payack said.
But his uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, who lives outside Washington, said the brothers seemed like “losers” who hated “those who were able to settle themselves” successfully into American life.
An aunt, Maret Tsarnaeva, had helped her brother’s family apply for refugee status in the US in 2002, when they left Kyrgyzstan. The family’s ethnic home is the Russian republic of Chechnya.
The indictment provides details about extremist propaganda, including al-Qaeda terrorist network publications found on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s computer, and bomb-making supplies that the brothers ordered on the internet.
Over the past year, three college friends – Azamat Tazhayakov, Robel Phillipos and Dias Kadyrbayev – have been convicted of obstructing justice in the removal of evidence from Tsarnaev’s dorm room.
A high school friend, Stephen Silva, has been convicted of supplying him with the gun used to kill Collier. A fifth man, a taxi driver from Kyrgyzstan who came to the US legally in 2010 according to his indictment, stands charged with obstructing justice.