Family members of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev leave the federal courthouse following the arraignment of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in Boston, Massachusetts July 10, 2013. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev pleaded not guilty to committing the worst mass-casualty attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, a crime that could bring the death penalty. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
There was â€œpin-drop silenceâ€ in the courtroom as the surviving Boston marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev took the stand during his first pre-trial hearing on July 10, 2013. A crying baby held by Tsarnaevâ€™s sister pierced the silence. Watching the trial were about 30 people representing the victimsâ€™ families, as well as a row of family members and supporters of the defendant. The grand jury indictment by the FBI in coordination with federal and local authorities charged Tsarnaev with 30 counts of federal crimes including using a weapon of mass destruction and killing a police officer.
Represented by Federal attorneys Miriam Conrad and William Fick with input from Attorney Judy Clarke and Prof. David Clarke, Dzhokhar pled â€œNot Guiltyâ€ to all charges. Reporter Pam Gelly describes: â€œAssistant US Attorney William Weinrebâ€¦ continues reading through groups of charges: possession and use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence resulting in death; carjacking resulting in serious bodily injury; bombing of a place of public use resulting in death.
â€œNot Guilty,â€ Tsarnaev says again. More charges are read.
â€œNot Guilty,â€ he says and rubs his mouth.
â€œNot Guilty,â€ clenching his hands together.
â€œNot Guilty.â€ He says it seven times.
The judge explains that the United States will bring 80 to 100 witnesses to the trial. It will take 3 to 4 months, starting on September 23 at 10 am.â€
The hearing was presided over by Judge Marianne Bowler. Time will tell if Tsarnaev will settle for a plea bargain or if he will fight for his innocence in court. If the case goes to trial, Judge George Oâ€™Toole, who convicted Tarek Mehanna to 17.5 years for â€œmaterial support for terrorismâ€ on account of internet speech, will be presiding. Attorney General Eric Holder will decide whether Dzhokhar will get the death penalty, if convicted.
According to witnesses, Tsarnaev, who wore an orange jumpsuit, kept turning around to look at his family and friends in a row behind him. At one point he waved at his sisters, whereupon one of them burst into tears. He appeared to be heavily medicated and not entirely aware of the seriousness of the proceedings. Friends say he was not acting like himself. According to his wrestling teammates Tsarnaev, who went to high school in the US and was thoroughly Americanized, spoke in court with an uncharacteristically heavy Russian accent that his friends called â€œweird.â€ A former schoolmate and wrestling teammate said Tsarnaev looked tired and â€œbeat up.â€
â€œHis face was swollen on one side. He looked exhausted.â€
Brittany Gillis, who went to UMass Dartmouth at the same time as Tsarnaev, was inside the courtroom. â€œIt was very nerve wracking,â€ she said. â€œHis family was crying as soon as he walked in. And the victimsâ€™ families were very upset. You could just tell they were upset just by seeing him. His family was crying and he kept looking back at his family. It seemed like he was very nervous.â€
A small rally in support of Dzhokhar Tsnarnaev and suspicious of the government gathered outside the courthouse. At least one protester wore an â€œAnonymousâ€ mask.
There is certainly reason to doubt the veracity of government accusations â€“ and if Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev really did use homemade bombs to kill and injure hundreds of Boston marathon spectators, there is good reason to suspect FBI and CIA involvement. Some years back, when Dzhokharâ€™s brother Tamerlan applied for a travel visa to visit relatives, Russian authorities reportedly asked the CIA to investigate the Muslim family, whose female members had recently started wearing hijab. The brothers had met with the FBI multiple times in the two years before the marathon bombing. Their mother Zubeida Tsarnaev, who was also reportedly on a government watchlist, said the FBI was closely scrutinizing her sonâ€™s online activity.
It will be interesting to see if government prosecutor Carmen Ortiz will provide proof of Tsarnaevsâ€™ criminal wrongdoings, or if she will resort to the cheap tactic of using â€œsecret evidenceâ€ against the accused. Other than wild media stories about the manhunt that resulted in the cities of Boston, Cambridge and Watertown being shut down under martial law, all the public has to go on is surveillance camera footage showing Dzhokhar and his brother Tamerlan walking peacefully through the crowd at the Boston marathon wearing light backpacks.
All we know for sure is that the police shot the brothers multiple times, killing Tamerlan while he was handcuffed in police custody, and severely wounding the unarmed Dzhokhar in the process of capturing him.
Circulating on Twitter is a rumor stating that, according to the wife of a Boston police officer, â€œall the cops took turns beating the crap out of himâ€¦ jumped on his chest and everything.â€
The 19 year old immigrant was aggressively interrogated for 18 hours and pressured to confess without a lawyer present after arriving at the hospital with multiple bullet wounds upon his arrest. It looks like someone broke his arm rather recently, as he appeared in court with a new cast on his arm. However, the defense was not permitted to discuss anything about police brutality.
In an interesting twist of events, the proceedings of the secret hearing were illegally videotaped by someone standing behind the court camera and aired by a television station in Russia. Grainy cell phone photos from inside the courtroom showing the thin, young, pensive looking man seated next to his lawyer, were also circulated widely online via social media.
The intense international interest in this court case is unique for a US â€œMuslim terroristâ€ prosecution in that there are so many vocal advocates insisting on his innocence and demanding a fair trial â€“ balancing the huge number of unquestioningly pro-establishment American citizens ready for another public hanging of a foreign Muslim.
This time, the public wants to know whatâ€™s really going on. If the Boston marathon bombing was really simply carried out by two youths playing with homemade explosives, why is that being treated as a federal terrorism case rather than a local violent crime under the jurisdiction of Boston police?
Did the Tsarnaevs do it? If yes, they probably did not act alone. It is important not to let this kid become a scapegoat to cover up for a deeper government conspiracy.