Opening statements in the case of US v Dzhokhar Tsarnaev took place on Wednesday, 4th. March at Moakley Federal Courthouse in Boston. A particularly prominent presence of both law enforcement and media was obvious outside the courthouse but I saw no sign of any protestors or demonstrators other than one man holding a small sign declaring the death penalty to be murder.
On this occasion I did not gain access to courtroom 9 where proceedings were being held but was directed to courtroom 22 where I was able to take a seat in the front row directly in front of the television monitor. It has been reported elsewhere that courtroom 9 was largely occupied by “Tsarnaev fangirls” but a member of the court staff told me that in fact this courtroom was largely occupied by victims of the bombing and their families. Overflow rooms were also available in courtroom 20 and the jury assembly room on the first floor.
Judge O’Toole entered the courtroom at around 9.20 am and immediately denied motions 1080, 1103, (filed under seal), and 1108, (4th. motion for change of venue.) This was followed by a ten minute sidebar during which sound was turned off in the overflow rooms and we were informed that music would be played in courtroom 9 to ensure the conversation between the judge and attorneys was not overheard.
Immediately after the sidebar Judge O’Toole granted the prosecution’s motion to exclude mitigating evidence from the guilt phase of the trial.
The jury entered the courtroom at 9.35 am and Judge O’Toole inquired as to whether they had avoided speaking with the media and others in regard to the case. He appeared satisfied with their assurances that this was so and moved on to outline the charges against the defendant, the course proceedings in this case will take and to caution the jurors that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is to be presumed innocent until such time as the government proves him otherwise.
Opening statements began with William Weinreb speaking for the prosecution. (As transcripts of the opening statements have now been released I will post links to these transcripts rather than typing my own notes. Unfortunately due to some technical difficulties in posting this report I will have to post these links at the first comment on the following thread. My apologies for any inconvenience this may cause readers.)
Weinreb’s opening statements not only outlined the charges against Tsarnaev and the course of events, according to the government, before, during and after the bombing of the Boston Marathon, but also sought to incite hatred for the defendant in emphasizing the government’s contention that Tsarnaev deliberately chose to place a bomb in close proximity to children and was fully aware of the carnage which would result from the detonation of such a device.
The murder of Officer Sean Collier was referenced and although it was admitted that surveillance video believed to show the perpetrators of this crime is in fact inconclusive, Weinreb claimed that the government can link Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to the murder by way of ballistics and also forensics due to a glove allegedly found in Tsarnaev’s Honda which had Officer Collier’s blood on it. A witness who claims to have made eye contact with a man he saw leaning into Collier’s police cruiser was mentioned.
Much was made of the fact that the government are apparently in possession of the defendant buying milk soon after the bombings took place and was used to infer indifference to the suffering of the victims of the bombing. For this reason I do believe that the government intends to aggressively pursue the death penalty in this case.
Judy Clarke made opening statements for the defense. She began by acknowledging the tragedy which was the bombing of the Boston Marathon and expressed her empathy for the victims and the Boston community and in doing so described the crimes committed as “incomprehensible” and “unforgivable.” This tactic surprised many including myself but undoubtedly got the attention of the jury and my perception was that Clarke’s initial statements persuaded the jury, and indeed those attending to listen to her and afforded her much credibility.
Clarke described Dzhokhar’s brother, Tamerlan, as having been “obsessed with violent Islamic extremism” and asserted that it was Tamerlan who planned the bombing and purchased the materials to manufacture the bombs detonated at the Marathon in 2013. She went on to state that it was Tamerlan who pointed a gun at Dun Meng, (“Danny”), and shot Officer Collier.
It has been reported that Clarke said, “he did it”, in reference to her client. She did not. What she actually said was that “it was him.” This comment was made in acknowledgement that her client, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was in fact present at the Boston Marathon, the murder of Collier, the car-jacking of Dun Meng and his Mercedes and at the Watertown “shoot-out.” A photograph of a very young Dzhokhar Tsarnaev with his older brother was then shown to the court and Clarke spoke of the differences between the prosecution’s version and the defense’s version of “how we got from here to where we are today.” ( I do believe that this will be of great interest to all of us.)
Judge O’Toole scheduled a 15 minute break at 11.05 am and when proceedings began again, actually at 11.35 am, witnesses for the prosecution were called to testify. The first of these witnesses was Thomas Grilk who was a member of the Boston Athletic Association, (now retired), and described the organization and history of the marathon.
Grilk was the only witness for the government to be cross examined by the defense when Miriam Conrad asked him if he prepared the diagram of a section of Boyleston Street shown to the court and what he had meant in affirming to the prosecution that he believed this diagram to be “to scale.” Grilk said that he had not prepared the diagram personally and that in affirming that he believed said diagram to be “to scale” he had simply meant that “it looked about right.” (Obviously there is some relevance attached to these questions.)
Grilk was followed by Shane O’Hara who was manager of “Marathon Sports” at the time of the bombing. He described his experiences that day.
A hour’s lunch break was scheduled at 1.00 pm and when court reconvened it was explained that sound was to be suppressed during a section of one of the videos of the aftermath of the bombing about to be shown to the court. No reason was given as to why.
During the remainder of the afternoon testimony was heard from Coulten Kilgore, Rebbecca Gregory, Sydney Corcoran and Karen McWaters. (Formerly Rand .) All of these witnesses were injured in the bombing and had friends and/or family members who were injured in the bombing and described their experiences at the Boston Marathon in 2013. Their testimony was accompanied by exhibits in the form of videos and photographs. Most of these exhibits had not been seen by the public previously and all were graphic and disturbing in the extreme. Some, fortunately, were redacted due to their very graphic nature. Court was adjourned at 4.05 pm.
Despite Judy Clarke’s admission of her client’s presence at the Boston Marathon, the murder of Collier, the car-jacking and the Watertown shootout I would like to remind all who have followed this case that the “holes” in the government’s narrative and unlikelihoods we have observed remain as yet unexplained. The color of Dzhokhar’s backpack and the detonation site of the second bomb are but two obvious examples. Have deals been struck to possibly exclude some testimony or evidence in this case, perhaps in the interests of “national security”? Is all the “evidence” wholly credible? Whilst I am aware that many will disagree with me I personally believe this may be so. For this reason we should all remain vigilant.