Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s own words may determine whether he lives or dies, even if he never speaks at trial
BOSTON (CNN) — Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s own words may determine whether he lives or dies, even if he never speaks a word at his trial.
The admitted Boston Marathon bomber has sat in silence as people who lost limbs sobbed or glared at him from the witness stand. He slouched in his chair as jurors watched videos of him both before and after two nail-packed pressure cooker bombs exploded, killing three people, claiming 17 limbs and hurting more than 260 others.
He didn’t utter a peep as his tweets and words he had scribbled on the side of a pleasure boat flashed up on a big screen and were quoted in court.
At issue: Was Tsarnaev a terrorist looking to punish the United States for policies he believed were harmful to Muslims? Or, was he a goofball stoner who simply followed the lead of his older, more radical brother?
The defense team tried to portray Tsarnaev as a confused college kid who, like countless others, watches Comedy Central and cracks crass jokes. “I wanna study a broad or two,” he posted on his Twitter account as @J_tsar. He jokes about not seeing commercials featuring the Trix rabbit, and about “whale watching” outside a McDonald’s fast-food restaurant.
Miriam Conrad, a member of his defense team, tried Tuesday to apply a more benign spin on tweets the government contends show him as a would-be jihadist eager for martyrdom and a free pass to paradise.
His brother was dead and police knew who he was; they were scouring the Boston suburb of Watertown for Tsarnaev when he slipped under a tarp and climbed aboard the Slip Away II, a fishing boat dry-docked in a Watertown backyard. He hid for hours before being discovered.
Bleeding, he picked up a pencil and wrote what Assistant U.S. Attorney William Weinreb called his “manifesto.”
Tsarnaev wrote he was jealous that his brother, Tamerlan, had achieved paradise by dying like a holy warrior; he was killed the night before during a gunbattle with police. The indictment against him says Tsarnaev helped in his brother’s demise by running him over and dragging him along the road as he tried to run down police.
About the bombings, Tsarnaev wrote on the boat that he didn’t enjoy killing innocent civilians, but that circumstances excused it.
“The US Government is killing our innocent civilians but most of you already know that,” he wrote. “Know you are fighting men who look into the barrel of your gun and see heaven, now how can you compete with that. We are promised victory and we will surely get it.”
Streaks of blood cover portions of his message. More than a dozen bullet holes obliterate parts of words. So ended one of the biggest manhunts in U.S. history.
While in the boat, he wrote that he couldn’t stand to see the U.S. government “go unpunished” for killing Muslims. “We Muslims are one body, you hurt one you hurt us all.”
He ended with: “Now I don’t like killing innocent people it is forbidden in Islam but due to said ” — the word was lost to a bullet hole — “it is allowed.”
Judge George O’Toole viewed the boat Tuesday afternoon so he could rule on a defense request to show the entire boat “in context” to the jury. He turned down requests by the media to accompany him.
The defense said the government only presented about 45 tweets out of about 1,100. Many were benign, about girls, cars and food as well as sleeping and disliking studying, the defense argued.
On Monday, FBI agent Steven Kimball testified about two Twitter accounts used by Tsarnaev. One account shows he tweeted on the day of the April 15, 2013, bombing:
“Ain’t no love in the heart of the city, stay safe people”
His last tweet was on April 17. He sent it while on the run:
“I’m a stress free kind of guy”
His other account carried seven tweets, including this:
“strive to be a better muslim, be greedy with your time, devote most of it to the Almighty for it is his satisfaction that you need #islam”
The jury also has now seen Tsarnaev in videos, trailing his brother onto Boylston Street. Both carried heavy backpacks. He paused for four minutes, standing next to a tree in front of the Forum restaurant. In front of him stood a line of children who were leaning over the barricade and watching the race. He put his backpack down at his feet and made a phone call.
When his brother’s bomb went off a block away, heads swiveled in surprise in the direction of the noise. And there was Tsarnaev walking through the crowd, looking back over his shoulder as his own bomb went off 12 seconds later. Martin Richard, an 8-year-old standing in the line of kids, took the full brunt of the blast, which tore him apart.
The bombs went off at 2:49 and 2:50 p.m., about the same time as he exchanged phone calls with his brother. The next video showed Tsarnaev in the crowd running. Other videos show him carrying on as usual: buying milk and swiping his card at his college gym. But FBI agents were already in pursuit, collecting store security videos and looking for somebody suspicious in the marathon crowd.
By Wednesday night, authorities had a good idea who they were looking for. By Thursday night, his photo had been released to the public. By the next morning, his brother was dead, and Tsarnaev was hiding in the boat, writing of martyrdom and paradise.