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Boston Bombing News: Tsarnaev Trial: Day 38

[Editor’s Note: Below is an account of proceedings in the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on March 24.]

Proceedings began on March 24 with a continuation of testimony by Mathew Levitt, a witness for the prosecution who is claimed to be an “expert on terrorism.” I am given to understand that during an adequate cross examination David Bruck was able to persuade Levitt to confirm that not all who read “jihadist material” would go on to become “radicalized.” Aloke Chakravarty chose to reference Tsarnaev’s tweets from the day of the marathon during redirect.

(I was particularly struck by Levitt’s assertion that although Islam forbids the killing of innocents “no US citizen is considered Innocent” and this, for me, spoke more to propaganda aimed at the promotion of Islamophobia than to the case of the bombing of the Boston Marathon or indeed the boat note and for this reason I would seriously question the relevance of Levitt’s testimony in this case.)

Officer Colleen Tanguay of the Massachusetts State Police and 73rd witness for the prosecution, was next to take the stand. Tanguay had been amongst those involved in the processing of the crime scene at Laurel Street in Watertown following the shootout at that location. William Weinreb questioned this witness for the prosecution during which Tanguay reviewed photographic evidence which included photos of the Ruger P95 pistol found lying on a driveway having allegedly been thrown by Tamerlan Tsarnaev and confirmed that bullet holes were found in people’s homes along Laurel Street following the shootout.

Tanguay was immediately followed by Lt. David Cahill, also of the Massachusetts State Police, who is another who was involved in the investigation of the crime scene at Watertown and also at MIT. Cahill is a specialist in firearms and ballistics. He was also questioned by Weinreb and described for the court the methods by which it is possible to determine that a bullet or projectile was fired from a specific weapon. Multiple exhibits related to ballistics were reviewed during Cahill’s testimony which continued after the morning break.

During the second part of Cahill’s testimony photographs were produced of a pellet gun allegedly purchased by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and recovered at the scene of the Watertown shootout. It was confirmed that a magazine for a Ruger P95 pistol was recovered from the Mercedes SUV which was allegedly car-jacked. We were told that during the processing of the crime scene at Watertown 56 bullets were identified as having been fired from a Ruger pistol and 210 from police standard issue firearms. Cahill then described how he was able to determine that the bullets recovered from the scene of the murder of Officer Collier at MIT were fired from the same weapon as the 56 recovered at Watertown.

Cross examination of this witness was conducted by Timothy Watkins who questioned the location of Officer Richard Donahue’s cruiser at the time he was shot and from whence that bullet came. Cahill was initially evasive on this but eventually admitted that there are two possible locations for Officer Donahue at the time that he was shot. At this point the prosecution raised an objection to this line of questioning which Judge O’Toole sustained. Cahill confirmed that he had not been privy to finger print analysis of projectiles recovered at either crime scene although finger print analysis had been performed. We heard that in addition to the 210 projectiles fired by law enforcement and the 56 fired from a Ruger pistol at Watertown, 16 rifle cartridges were also recovered. This witness declined to answer questions regarding a “separate incident” which took place on Adams Street, (four blocks away), at approximately the same time as the shootout in Watertown.

The third witness of the day was FBI SA Matthew Riportella who described how the Tsarnaev brothers visited a firing range in Manchester New Hampshire on 20th March, 2013. Surveillance video of the two brothers at the range was shown as was documentation to prove that two Glock pistols were rented and four boxes of 9mm ammunition were purchased by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Defense declined to cross examine this witness.

Next up for the prosecution was Massachusetts State Police Sergeant Timothy E. Dowd. His testimony focused on ballistics and evidence of explosives found at the Watertown scene as well as a description of “auto-imaging” which we were told is used by MA State Police to review crime scenes. Dowd stated that he observed a pressure cooker which had become embedded in the side of a car. This time around during cross examination, Watkins succeeded in bringing up the question of who was responsible for the shooting of Officer Donahue despite the prosecution’s continued objects which the judge decided to over-rule. Unfortunately the origin of the bullet responsible for Donahue’s injury cannot be determined by ballistics as this bullet has not been removed from Donahue’s body.

Watkins also questioned how the pressure cooker embedded in the side a car, (a Honda sedan), as depicted in photographs recently produced by the prosecution, came to be so positioned. Other vehicles parked at the scene would seem likely to have obstructed the path of this object and Dowd admitted that his own sketches of the scene were more accurate than the diagram of the street produced by the Massachusetts State Police.

Lunch break, as usual, took place between 1.00 pm and 2.00 pm.

Christopher Donahue who is employed by Massachusetts State Police crime scene services was the first witness called after lunch. He was questioned on his vocation related qualifications and stated that finger print analysis was his main field and then went on to review a series of photographs identifying those showing bullet holes in a home located at 40, Laurel Street which he stated had been caused by a projectile fired from a Ruger pistol. Donahue confirmed that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s finger prints were found on the pellet gun recovered at the scene and that Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s prints were found on the Ruger pistol.

I left the courtroom at 2.35 pm in order to attend the plea hearing for Khairullozhon Matanov which was scheduled to take place at 3.00 pm . At this point Janet Montgomery, a DNA analyst had just taken the stand. I am told that she testified that not only was Officer Collier’s blood found on two gloves recovered from Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s Honda Civic, but also that Collier’s blood was found on the keys to this vehicle.

Officer Miguel Colon of the Watertown police department is reported to have testified yesterday afternoon regarding the scene at Watertown and identified Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as the driver of the black Mercedes SUV which he alleges hit Tamerlan Tsarnaev. I understand that Timothy Watkins focused on trying to ascertain that Tamerlan Tarnaev was the brother who was doing the shooting at Watertown but I am unclear as to whether he was successful in this. Following Colon’s testimony Judge O’Toole called a sidebar.

Colon was followed by the Vice Chancellor and Chief Financial Officer of U-Mass Dartmouth, Mark Preble. I understand this witness spoke of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s declining grades and that as a result Tsarnaev’s financial aid was suspended. A letter from Tsarnaev attempting to explain the reason for his declining standard of work was shown in court and his activities on campus after the bombing of the marathon were outlined.

The last witness for the day was FBI Agent Kim Franks who was involved in the search of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s shared dorm room at Pine Dale Hall. Franks described how he found the receipt for the pellet gun recovered at Watertown in the dorm room along with BBs and clothing worn by the accused as depicted in the surveillance videos taken on the day of the marathon. He was expected to continue his testimony on March 25.

Creative Commons licensed photo from Voice of America and as a government work is in the public domain

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