A Report from leftcoast5:
March 12th 2015, Moakley Courthouse, Boston.
US v Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
General Observations: Defense and Prosecution Attorneys were in the courtroom and in place well before the official 9:00 am start time. Some technical issues appeared to be addressed as to monitors and what not before the jury was seated and the judge arrived. Convened at 9:15 am.
The courtroom itself is much smaller than many might expect. By far the majority of attendees, (at least half), at Thursday’s trial were representatives of the media. There were 3 court artists present. These people took up the largest center portion of seating for observers. Victims and law enforcement appeared to be seated in the left side section. The first 2 rows of the right side section were “reserved” and the remaining 3-4 rows (5 to a bench!) were for members of the public. There are only 20 seats for the general public and all were taken.
Additional “technical” equipment has been brought into and set up in the courtroom including cameras to transmit the proceedings to the “overflow” rooms and large screens to enable viewing of digital photo or video evidence by the media, victims and public. The placement of one large screen totally obscured the view of the witness stand for most people seating in the “public” section. We could see the witness only as they approached the witness stand from the back of the courtroom and when they exited the witness stand via the same path.
Mr. Tsarnaev was animated in speaking with his attorneys prior to commencement of the proceedings. In no way did he appear to be disinterested, but was very obviously engaged, conferring with his attorneys throughout the day. He uses his hands expressively when he talks. He is tall and very slight in build and very, very thin. He looks pale and slightly unhealthy, not unexpected for someone who rarely sees the light of day due to SAMs. His hair is brown, not black and was not unkempt or wild as is often reported or depicted in courtroom sketches. (He has curly hair, get over it, media types!) He tends to sit low in his chair, but is not slouching. That description clearly belonged to the bailiff’s posture. Mr. Tsarnaev does play with his goatee as do most young (and many older!) men who have facial hair. I perceived no message good, bad or otherwise in this behavior. He is clearly very young. And after he has been escorted away by the US Marshalls, very much alone.
Coaching, Compilations and (Re) Creating Evidence: But is it the truth?
It is important to note that this is the prosecution’s part of the trial. They are presenting their case against the defendant. All the witnesses called to testify at this point have been called by them and will be speaking to the prosecution’s viewpoint. It is clear that most if not all have been coached by the prosecution.
The first witness, Michael Cashman, a MSP Trooper was called and testified regarding the MIT crime scene. He was later at Laurel St. in Watertown where he focusesd on the green Honda Civic found “abandoned in the center of the street”. Today, a video from an MIT surveillance camera on the top of an adjacent building was shown. The timestamp was 10:25 and showed Officer Collier’s cruiser pulling up and parking on a pedestrian walkway. Two figures can be seen rounding the corner and continuing across the square and then approaching the cruiser. At no point in this video is it possible to discern who these figures are, what they are wearing or any other identifiable features. They are at the cruiser for a few minutes then leave, apparently headed for Ames St. The next video exhibit shot from a different location is a close up shot of a pointy shaped building with two crosswalks in front of it. The date/time stamp is 4/18 10:26 pm and several cars can be seen heading north on Ames St. Following these there is one car headed south on Ames St., the screen shot of this vehicle is 4/18 10:26:56 pm. The Trooper testifies this is a green Honda Civic. Again, impossible to discern this conclusively. It could be a car of any similar color value: green, dark blue or black. It is a dark color, no license plate or other identifying factors may be seen. Cashman then testifies that the green Honda Civic recovered on Laurel St. in Watertown was towed back to this scene in operable condition and driven down Ames St. several times for a “comparison view” to the original footage. This was done on 4/25 at 9:25 pm under “similar lighting conditions”. The screen shots from the original footage and the “enactment” footage are shown side by side and Eureka! They match! Or as the Trooper says, they “appear to be the same vehicle”. Really. As if there is only one green Honda Civic in the city of Boston or the Northeastern US. Again, there are no license plate nos. or anything else to prove that it belongs to the defendant or is in fact, a green Honda Civic except that it now matches the recreated version using what is presumably Tsarnaev’s car although no proof is shown to confirm this such as a license plate, vin no. or even a close up photo of the car. For all we know, it could be a recreation of two dark red Toyotas or Nissans.
Oddly, Trooper Cashman testifies at this point that he served a search warrant for blood samples to Beth Israel Hospital and received 3 vials of blood from them, presumably that of the defendant. Photos of vials in a zip lock are shown. And that is the end of that. No doubt we will learn more about these later.
There was no cross examination by the defense team.
Next up: Anthony Grassi, an Investigator/Detective for Cambridge PD who was investigating the 711 crime scene before being called to the Collier scene. Upon arriving at the MIT scene, he is told that Collier’s weapon is missing and there is an active shooter in the area. It is not until Collier is in the ambulance and on his way to the hospital that he learns that the weapon is NOT missing and has been “secured” in Heninger’s cruiser. He elaborates on evidence found: 3 empty shell casings on the ground behind Collier’s cruiser. We are told that typically shell casings eject up and to the right. Evidence markers 1, 2 and 3 are placed on the ground – all are many feet behind the cruiser. More evidence photos are shown of the inside of the cruiser: the front passenger seat showing Collier’s hat and briefcase with a fourth shell casing on top of the hat; a bullet fragment on the front passenger floor mat; damage to the center console. The radio console has been broken in half. There is a lot of blood on driver’s seat and console. In the back seat is a puddle of blood under the driver’s seat and part of the mike cover on the far side of the back seat. Detective Grassi entered the Stata Building and worked from the 9th floor down looking for suspects and/or witnesses to this shooting. None to be found.
There was no cross examination by the defense team.
Next witness: Dr. Renee Robinson of the Medical Examiner’s Office who performed the autopsy on Officer Sean Collier on 4/19/13. After giving a clinical overview of how an autopsy is done and the findings are interpreted, she states the cause of death is due to gunshot wounds to the head. Manner of death is determined to be homicide. Officer Collier sustained 3 gunshot wounds to the head and 2-3 gunshot wounds to his right hand. One wound is an intermediate range penetrating wound between his eyes. Second wound is a contact range penetrating wound to the left cheek. The third head wound is a contact range penetrating wound in front of the left ear. Any one of these shots would have been instantly fatal having destroyed portions of the brain necessary to sustain life. These photos are no doubt gruesome and are not shown to any but the witness, judge and jury. In fact all monitors for attorneys and defendant are folded down flat to the tables so that any observer behind them will not be able to glimpse any views of these horrible, gruesome wounds. Dr. Robinson testified to additional “ associated findings” and the placement and trajectories of the 3 gunshot wounds to his right hand, none of which were fatal. She agreed that the wounds to the hand “could be” consistent with his right hand being on the console of the cruiser.
Timothy Watkins conducted the cross examination by the Defense, asking about the diffusion of burned powder and gases that Dr. Robinson previously testified are emitted from a weapon when it is shot much as paint diffuses from a spray can. Watkins asked if it this powder/gas residue could spray 3-5 ft? Disperse 3-5 ft. in all directions? Dr. Robinson answered, “I suppose so.” Watkins: “Can it be on the shooter?” Dr. Robinson says, “It’s possible.” Watkins continues, “ When a bullet pierces skin there is splatter which can be quite diffuse?”. Dr. Robinson, “I suppose”. But also notes that she is not a blood splatter expert.
The prosecution redirect: “Was stippling on face?”, The Dr. responds, “Yes.” Stippling indicates a gunshot made from an intermediate distance (+/- 1-1/2”)
Clearly, from previous photos we have seen of the Tsarnaev brothers after their alleged shooting of Collier there is no blood splatter on their clothes or skin.
Next witness is Alan Mednick, owner of the Memorial Shell Gas Station. He is questioned by Weinreb. Several photos of the gas station from different vantage points are entered into evidence as is a simple map showing it’s location. Mr. Mednick notes that there are a total of 16 surveillance cameras covering the inside and outside of the station. He testifies that on the evening of 4/18/13 he received a call that the police needed to speak with him immediately. When he arrives, he is not allowed inside the station until the FBI gets there. Once they arrive, he went inside and played the surveillance video back for the FBI. He also made and printed copies of them for the FBI and MSP. Next exhibit entered is a video compilation of the surveillance camera videos. At this point, Judy Clarke and Weinreb confer. The video rolls. A Black Mercedes SUV pulls up to the pump and a figure gets out and heads to the convenience store. His hood is up on his Adidas sweatshirt. He is seen shopping in the convenience store and his left hand is on his chin a lot, apparently fiddling with his facial hair. Next, the video cuts to a shot of a person running presumably from the SUV and across the street to the Mobil Station. It is unclear from which door this person has exited or even if they have exited the SUV as opposed to running past it. We are then shown a view of Tamerlane getting out of the car and nearing the convenience store wearing a white cap. The next shot is of the vehicle exiting the Shell station pumps at approximately 12:00-12:15 am.
There was no cross examination by the defense team.
These video compilations are troubling. What details are being omitted that could be very important? Information is being taken out of context and assorted into a storyline which may or may not be totally accurate given the omissions. This is stacking the deck to portray only what the prosecution wants us to see, not necessarily the complete picture, which may not be what we are led to believe by the compilations.
When we return from the lunch break, we are treated to a brief interlude of jazz music as the defense attorneys and judge gather for a side bar.
Witness Eddie Lakkis is next. He is the manager of the Memorial Drive Mobil station. His job includes daily operations/IT/Security. Again, a simple map and photos of the station from various vantage points are entered into evidence. They too, have a total of 16 surveillance cameras covering the inside and outside of the station and minimart. Mr. Lakkis was called by Cambridge Police late on the evening of 4/18 to come in and pull their surveillance video. The video is entered into evidence and the first frame shows “Danny” bursting through the door. Again this is a video compilation. He confirms that this is “a fair and accurate copy”.
There is no cross examination by the defense team.
Dun Meng is called as the next witness. The mysterious “Danny” and his ever-evolving story! Which version will we hear? Dun Meng moves to the witness stand accompanied by an interpreter, Lilun Zhang. She will be interpreting as needed from English to Mandarin and vice versa. Interestingly, someone who bears a remarkable resemblance to Prof. James Fox of Northeastern University has slipped late into the courtroom and seats himself in the 2nd reserved row on the “public side” of the courtroom. It seems there may be a veritable “cheering section” in the reserved rows for Mr. Meng. And the coaches have been busy. Meng’s testimony is polished, almost suspiciously so. The details of his testimony are well-known by now. According to Meng, a sedan has pulled up behind him as Dun has pulled over to respond to a text. Tamerlan knocks on his front passenger window and when Dun rolls it down thinking that he wants directions, Tamerlan reaches inside and opens the door, quickly jumps inside, closes the door and puts a gun to Dun’s head.
Steve Mellin is doing the questioning and asks many leading questions such as, “ Why do you think he asked about roommates”, (speculation?) Meng continues driving until they stop on a dark side street in Watertown. He is ordered to sit in the front passenger seat and he walks around the front of car and sits in passenger seat. He testifies that at this time Tamerlan opened his hatch and were moving stuff from the sedan to the SUV, Mellin asks,”How many items were loaded?” Meng responds , “not sure, more than 2”, even though he has just testified that he did not look back to see what they were loading as he was too afraid.
Tamerlan resumes driving with his brother in the back seat behind Meng. Meng is asked by Mellin, “Do you see him in court today?”. Meng answers “Yes, the gentleman over there” and points to the defendant.
For the sake of time, I will summarize the version Meng swore was correct in court:
* He was in the car for 90 minutes.
* He was afraid for his life.
* He was asked for and gave pin no. to defendant once they pulled over to ATM in Watertown.
* TT told him they both had guns, but he admitted that never saw defendant with a gun.
* He is shown an envelope containing his bank card and states it is different one than one used to withdraw money from ATM.
* The man did not show him the money taken from ATM nor did the two men say how much they took.
* The two men had conversations in a language he didn’t understand.
* Denies car has GPS system when asked by Tamerlane, even though it does.
* Asked by Tamerlane if his car can go out of state (lease conditions, perhaps??)
* They drive back to first place they stopped in Watertown after unsuccessfully trying to buy gas and stop in front of same house. Defendant got out of car and grabbed something out of sedan, maybe a CD, which they played in the car. “Different, weird style of music, very religious”.
* Forced at gunpoint to answer phone call from roommate and tell him in English he is not feeling well and will be staying with a friend. Told he did a “good job, boy.”. Meng relaxes.
* When asked by Mellin, Meng states that Tamerlan never pointed a gun at his brother. Never threatened him.
* Dzhokhar is in convenience store and Tamerlan is fiddling with Garmin GPS apparently taken from sedan when Meng decides to flee. Most terrifying and difficult decision of his life. He counts 1-2-3-4 and unbuckles, opens door and takes off to Mobil station across street.
* Mobil attendant calls 911 after some initial confusion, hands phone to him and Meng is on phone when police arrive.
* Meng describes the men as 5’7”, Iranian, Iraqi or Arabian. Doesn’t remember what they were wearing (after 90 minutes with them??)
* Tells police his cell is still in car and that he has MBrace Tracking system on car, a system provided by Mercedes Benz.
* Asked by Mellin:
* Did he ever get his car back?. ”Nope.”
* What items did you have in car at that time. “Small items, wallet, watch, water.”
* Do you remember someone bringing a CD into car? “No.”
* Did you ever hit a human being or animal? “No”. Ever damage left front quarter panel of car?
* Any bullet holes in car? “No”
* Prior to 4/18 was your back window shot out or damaged? “No”
* Is this your VIN#? (photo of vin no. shown)? (Who has this memorized???)
Cross Examination by Bruck:
* The person who came up to the car that night was Tamerlan Tsarnaev,correct? “Yes.”
* And Tamerlan opened door and got in car and pointed a gun at you and robbed you in the car? “Yes.”
* And threatened to kill you? “Yes”
* The first time you saw him was when he tapped on your window? “Yes.”
* You thought he was going to ask you for directions, that’s why you rolled down the window? “Correct.”
* Did Tamerlan ever receive a phone call? “I don’t remember.”
* Did you ever see another gun that night? “No.”
* The first thing Jahar ever said to you was “can his iphone be connected to the car to play music?” “Yes.”
Steve Mellin redirect of Meng:
* Both men were moving stuff to the car although you didn’t look back.
* Jahar asked for the pin# and withdrew money. Jahar exited the sedan. Got out of SUV two times to fill up with gas. Did Jahar ever tell you he did not have a gun? “No.”
Meng denied that he was acquainted with Tamerlan Tsarnaev prior to April 18th. 2013.
The next witness, William J. O’Keefe from Bank of America testified to B of A security process and reviewed information on ATM videos that night. Also reviewed documents showing transactions including logging into account, withdrawal and attempted second withdrawal which was denied. $800 dollars total withdrawn, all in 20 dollar bills. That’s 40 bills!
The video shows no blood on the Adidas sweatshirt. Jahar is wearing Tam’s white cap. Video timestamp is 23:21, total transaction lasted about 3 minutes. A second image is shown of Jahar from the back, he is turning to exit the ATM enclosure.
No cross examination by the defense team.
Next witness of the day: Michael Peterson, Uniformed Patrolman, Cambridge Police Dept.
On 4/18, he was assigned to a 2-man cruiser redeployed to Harvard Square due to large presence of police at MIT site. Received a call at 12:19 pm to go to Mobil Station at 816 Memorial Drive. When he arrived, Meng was there and was trembling, very scared. “Clearly a victim of something”. Peterson was told by Meng that his black Mercedes Benz had been carjackedand provided the license plate no.
Peterson radioed patrol re: carjacking and license plate info. Later Meng mentioned MBrace tracking system. Peterson googled it and called MBrace and asked them to track the vehicle. Was told that they were already dealing with another law enforcement and Officer Sullivan.
No Cross Examination by defense.
Last witness of the day: Joseph W. Sullivan, Communications Supervisor, Cambridge PD
A civilian, has done dispatch for 22 years. Received report of carjacking, said Meng didn’t know his license plate no. MBrace gave him the location of the vehicle: 87 Dexter Ave.
No cross examination by defense team.
Court adjourned early at about 3:30 pm.
Why did Meng state that the music on the CD was “religious”? How would he know this as he already admitted that he did not understand the language? While it is understandable that the music might sound “weird” to his ears, how could it possibly be inferred as “religious”. When this statement was made, two of the people seated in front of me became quite excited. Had he remembered the script? Was this the cause of their elation?
Why does a person who has been in this country for several years and has studied English since middle school, researched and written a Master’s thesis on Transportation Engineering in English require a translator in the courtroom?
Why does someone who has created and set up a business regarding an app for delivery of Asian food require the assistance of Prof. James Alan Fox of Northeastern University at all interviews with the press, etc?
And most importantly, why is this the version of the story he chose to swear was the truth after stating several conflicting versions?
Meng’s polished testimony was surprising given his halting interviews before. He had an amazing recall of some things (vin#) yet was way off on others such as the description of the carjackers?