With wild hair and a new beard, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev appeared in court this morning for the first time in more than a year, smiling at his lawyers as he took his place before a gallery full of Boston Marathon bombing survivors and victims’ families.
The emotional but brief hearing was punctuated by a woman being dragged out of the gallery screaming ‘don’t kill an innocent boy’ and words of encouragement to the suspect in Russian.
The 21-year-old stands accused of detonating twin bombs at the marathon’s finish line in April 2013, killing three and injuring more than 260, with his brother Tamerlan who was later killed in a shootout with police.
Tsarnaev wore a black sweater, white shirt and green pants to the hearing, and appeared to have healed since the last time he was seen in public. At his July 2013 arraignment, Tsarnaev’s face was still battered and he was wearing a cast on his arm from injuries sustained in his dramatic arrest.
Reporters in the room for the hearing wrote that Tsarnaev looked and acted casual, but was respectful to the judge and attentive to his defense attorneys. A group of 14 Boston Marathon survivors sat together on one side of the gallery to witness the event.
Tsarnaev faces 30 charges related to the bombings, and if convicted, he could face the death penalty.
Thursday’s hearing marked the last time that prosecutors or the defense could request ground rules for the trial, expected to start next month.
The brothers were believed to have carried out the attack together, but Tamerlan died in a shoot out with police a few days after the bombings.
All the while, Tsarnaev sat slouching in his chair ‘looking down’ and ‘occasionally looking over at the government’s lawyers’ a Buzzfeed reporter tweeted.
Another reporter from WBZ said Tsarnaev fidgeted, playing with his shirt collar, but appeared to be focused when speaking or listening to his defense team.
The Buzzfeed reporter said Tsarnaev called the judge ‘Sir’ any time he was asked a question.
At one point, a woman was kicked out of the gallery for yelling ‘don’t kill an innocent boy’ and other words directed at Tsarnaev in Russian. He did not respond, or look out at the gallery for the court appearance.
After she was escorted out of the building, the woman identified as Elena Teyer spoke with reporters and claimed to be the mother-in-law of Ibragim Todashev – a friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev who was shot dead after attacking an FBI agent with a pipe or stick during an interrogation at his Florida apartment in May 2013.
Investigators said Todashev was in the middle of writing a statement, implicating himself and Tamerlan in an unrelated September 11, 2011 triple-homicide in Waltham, Massachusetts.
The judge hearing the case previously denied a request from Tsarnaev’s lawyers, requesting the prosecution turn over evidence from the Waltham investigation – believing it could be used in the trial.
Teyer says she told Tsarnaev in Russian: ‘We prayed for you. Be strong, my son. We know you are innocent.’
The hearing lasted just 25 minutes, with Tsarnaev immediately being placed back in handcuffs. The judge and attorneys will continue meeting for private sessions over the next two weeks. The judge made no decisions on the ground rules requests, and will rule on them in written motions over the coming weeks.
That includes Tsarnaev’s latest request to get the trial moved out of Boston.
The judge previously turned down his defense team’s petition to move the trial in September, saying at the time that they had not provided enough evidence that media coverage of the bombings prejudiced the local jury pool beyond impartiality.
One of the locations the defense team recommended was Washington, D.C.
On Thursday, both prosecutors and the defense submitted proposed questions to ask potential jurors, which will be drawn from a pool of at least 1,200.
The trial is expected to last several months. Jury selection, which starts January 5, is expected to take at least a month.
Before the hearing got underway on Thursday, protesters gathered outside the court house to greet survivors, law enforcement who worked on the case and victims’ family members who were filing into the building.
Among the demonstrators was a small contingent, holding up signs in support of Tsarnaev – believing he’s innocent.
That led to one awkward encounter with Boston Marathon survivor Marc Fucarile, who went up to the group and took off his prosthetic leg, asking if it ‘was trickery’.
‘I just asked her if she wanted to come in and look at the evidence and then she could make her choices and decisions on how she feels,’ Fucarile told reporters at the end of the hearing.
Earlier this year, three of Tsarnaev’s friends were found guilty of interfering with the police investigation.
Friends Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev were convicted on charges related to throwing away Tsarnaev’s backpack containing fireworks from his dorm room, while Robel Phillipos was found guilty of lying to federal agents about being in the room when it happened.
All three are waiting to be sentenced for their crimes.
Tsarnaev’s Thursday hearing comes just one day after his sister Ailina Tsarnaeva appeared in Manhattan Criminal Court for allegedly threatening a woman who previously dated her boyfriend.
Courtesy of Daily Mail