Boston Bombing Trial: Day One

Prosecution, Opening Statements → HERE
Defense, Opening Statements → HERE

Exhibits → HERE

For anyone who follows the James Holmes case, some of you may remember July 10, 2013 as a day of reckoning.  For many, like myself, who like to don a tin-foil hat from time to time and furiously expound on devious, government activity and the poor chaps who get dragged into the political agenda or the American public that devour the narrative, that day in July marked the moment James Holmes’ defense team openly admitted Holmes was guilty of the slaughter that occurred inside an Aurora theater the night of July 20, 2012.  For some, it was a shocking day to be forgotten or disbelieved.  For others on the fence, it tipped the scales in favor of brutal justice.  Still others to this day stand behind him, demanding mental health reform and the prohibition of the death penalty.  And for those that believed in his guilt from day one, it merely confirmed what they already knew.

Such was the day yesterday morning as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev stands trial in a Boston courthouse for the April 15, 2013, Boston marathon bombings.  As a media storm gathered around the anticipated proceedings, many, like myself, looked forward to this day.  Up until now “evidence” was resigned to hearsay and speculation via tweets, Facebook groups, leaked information and media stories.  Yesterday marked the end of that.  Yet, it also marked the day that Jahar’s defense team admitted he committed the crimes he’s accused of with his brother.  Some will no doubt be shocked, disillusioned or angry.  Others will hold steadfast to the ideals of a government setup or the defense’s theory of an overbearing brother.  And, finally, others who have believed in Jahar’s guilt since the beginning surely feel vindicated.

Me?  Well, what do you say when the defendant admits he did it?  You wait for the evidence to decide why he did it – because that’s really what’s left, isn’t it?

So what happened during yesterday’s emotional proceedings?

Highlights of the prosecution’s opening statements:

1.  Rules of the Court
As you may have noticed already, no cameras or audio are permitted in the courtroom during the trial.  However, courtroom artists will be in the courtroom.  On a strange note, the judge is contemplating playing music during sidebars.  I’m not sure if the tweets I read are serious or not.  Music piped in?  For real?  As for the jury members, they are given notebooks during the trial, at night the court locks them (the notebooks, not the jurors, of course) ,and upon conclusion of the trial, they will be destroyed.  The judge gave a few reminders and rules to the jury:  Tsarnaev is innocent until proven guilty, that burden rests on the prosecution to prove he’s guilty – not the defense to prove he’s innocent, they are not permitted to “google” anything, no note taking during opening statements because opening statements are not considered evidence, do not discuss the case with others nor read about it outside of the courtroom and, finally, the answers to questions are the evidence, not the questions themselves.

2.  The Crowd and Jury
Many victims of the Boston bombing were in the courtroom including the parents of Martin Richard and Sean Collier’s father.  Reporters from across the globe filled two overflow rooms to capacity.  The jury is an all-white jury.  For a brief bio on each juror go to → HERE.

3.  The Tweeters
Mad props for court coverage today go out to @GlobeCullen, @carlwbz, @JaredPliner, @AlyshaNECN, @JimArmstrongWBZ, and @SLavienABC6.  There’s many more out there that did an excellent job.  Kudos to all of them.

4.  The Government’s Opening Statements (William Weinreb)
a.  Setting the scene
The prosecution started their opening statements by setting the scene at the marathon: Tamerlan and Jahar were at the marathon and walking towards the finish line with their backpacks which were filled with bombs “favored by terrorists.”  Jahar’s only goal that day was to detonate the bomb in his backpack in order to “maim and kill as many people as possible.”  Ad so, in an act of sheer evilness, Jahar stopped “in front of a crowed restaurant called Forum,” slipped his backpack off and placed the bomb “right behind a row of children who were standing on a railing by a curb,” one of them being Martin Richard.  The prosecution described how terrifying the explosions were and that the “air was filled with the smell of burning sulphur and people’s screams.”  And Martin Richard?  He was eight years old when the bomb blast tore his body apart and killed him.  His sister lost her leg and their mother was permanently blinded by the blast.  Lingzi Lu’s friends, Danling, witnessed her friend bleed to death on the sidewalk while she, herself, “used her hands to push them [her insides] back in” to her stomach.  Gruesome, horrifying stuff.

b.  Jahar and the Transformation
The prosecution claims that Jahar lived a double life and had a secret side of him of which his friends were not aware.  However, they mentioned that Jahar once told his friend that he “had a plan to reach paradise.”.  His transformation towards radical Islam happened fairly quickly, over the course of a year or so before the bombings.  He spread radical Muslim ideas online and posted about making bombs.  He read terrorist pamphlets, watched terrorist movies and listened to terrorist lectures.  His laptop, iPod and CD’s in his car were filled with the same and he had a  “virtually complete set of Inspire magazine,” published by Al Qaida.  Yet, miraculously, his college roommate never noticed the extent of Jahar’s radicalization and, furthermore, failed to call the FBI once Jahar’s picture was posted on television on April 18, 2013. 

c.  Before the Bombings
The US government claims that Jahar asked for and received a 9mm Ruger from Stephen Silva of Cambridge, who is expected to testify later in the case, before the bombings and that this gun was used to kill Officer Collier.  Furthermore, Jahar and his brother drove out to a Manchester, NH shooting range to practice.

d.  Tamerlan
Let’s start with how many times the prosecution said Tamerlan wouldn’t be in court because Jahar ran him over – or was that just an excessive amount of re-tweeting I saw today?  Either way, I”m certain he won’t be in court because of the eight or nine bullets put into him during a gun battle with Watertown police.  When is the last time you heard of someone being shot in the chest eight times and surviving?  When?  When the fuck did that ever happen?  He was killed by bullets, the undercarriage ride just happens to make the story.  Another point the prosecution made was that Tamerlan was the one who purchased the pressure cookers and remote controlled cars for the bombs.

e.  Jahar’s Motives
The prosecution argued that Jahar believes “America is the enemy of Muslim” and that he believes he is a “soldier in a holy war against Americans.”  Furthermore, he believed killing Americans would secure him a place in paradise.  Yet, apparently he wasn’t up for “suicide (martyrdom) by cop” that night in Watertown so he could get to paradise a little bit quicker.  The prosecution used the word “terrorist” multiple times in their opening statements yet, as of today, the United States government has failed to declare the Boston bombings an act of terrorism.

d.  The Bombing and surveillance
Before Jahar slipped off his background and let it slide to the ground behind Martin Richard, he stood behind him for four minutes, called Tamerlan, spoke with him for twenty seconds and then hung up.  Afterwards, his brother detonated a bomb and then, when Jahar was a safe distance away, Jahar detonated the second bomb on Boylston Street.  He used a cellphone detonator to set off the deadly blast and the police found hundreds of pieces of shrapnel and cloth from the backpacks at the scene (big deal, I thought they had the whole backpack?).  Pieces of the remote control car systems used in the bombs were also found.  Video of Jahar captured on surveillance tape from the Forum Restaurant turned out to be the infamous video we’ve been hearing about from the feds.  In the video, Jahar appeared with his backpack, his shoulder dipped down, and then he came back up with no backpack.  @AlyshaNECN tweeted, “Govt: that video revealed that the defendant was one of the bombers.”  Uh huh.  My guess is that the feds knew about that video and had identified Jahar by Monday night.  Are the authorities really telling us that they decided to plow through millions of other clips of film for four days before looking at the surveillance videos from the Forum – the place where one of the bombings actually occurred?  I doubt it.  Why is this important?  Well, for one, Collier would be alive today.  The government’s response yesterday was that they “had a face but not a name.”  But come on.  How hard was it to track Jahar to Tamerlan by the time, place, his clothes and hat and a million videos once they had him identified as the bomber?

e.  The Victims
No one can argue that the prosecution’s opening statements about the victims were not harrowing and heartbreaking.  They discussed how the shrapnel literally tore into people, shredding flesh as it went, how victims bled to death on the sidewalk, how many were blinded and lost a leg or a foot, and the large chunks of flesh torn out of Martin Richard’s body before he bled to death.  Horrific descriptions.  And remember, Martin’s parents were in the courtroom.  I cannot fathom it.

f.  After the Bombing
We’ve all heard it by now.  After Jahar set off his bomb, killing one and maiming scores of others, he drove to the WholeFoods in Central Square, Cambridge and bought a gallon of milk.  He even took the time to exchange brands, no less.  At the end of the day though, does it matter?  Does it matter if he went to the gas station, the gym, the grocery store or the library?  I mean, unless he went straight to the police department to confess his crimes, whatever else he did afterwards is cold and callous, right?  I mean, we already knew he went back to school that week and acted normal, hung out with friends, partied, went to the gym and played video games.

g.  The MIT Shooting
So what exactly happened to Collier?  Well, for one, the surveillance video from the scene does not show the faces of the Tsarnaev brothers (does it really matter after the defense’s opening statements?) yet apparently a MIT student, Nate Harmon, was biking by at the time of the shooting and will testify he saw Jahar at the scene of the crime.  The government claims that the Tsarnaev brothers walked through the courtyard and right up to Collier’s cruiser, opened the door and started shooting.  They tried to steal his gun but were unsuccessful (not according to police radio but that’s for another day, I suppose) and they shot Collier three times in the hand, twice in the side of his head and once, literally, between the eyes.  Good lord.  After the shootout in Watertown, authorities found two, bloody white gloves on the floor of the Honda Civic, underneath the driver’s seat.  White gloves?  Seriously?  The blood on the gloves and Ruger casings, both found in Watertown, matched Collier’s DNA and the casings at the MIT scene, respectively.  Furthermore, they found a key ring in the car that also had Collier’s blood on it.  The prosecution made it very clear during opening statements that it doesn’t matter who pulled the trigger, “they both murdered him [Collier].”  Hmm.  But it actually does matter who pulled the trigger.  At least in the US criminal justice system.  But whatevs.

h.  The Car Jacking
So the government’s argument is that after they shot Collier for his weapon they were planning on heading to New York with their four pipe bombs and pressure cooker.  Lo and behold, on the way, they came across “Danny,” who was pulled over next to Auto Zone reading a text message.  Tamerlan asked Danny for money but he only had $40 so Tamerlan carjacked him in order to hit up a bank with Danny’s ATM card, while Jahar followed behind in the Honda Civic.  During Danny’s ordeal, the prosecution argued that at some point the Tsarnaevs’ transferred bombs from the Honda Civic into the Mercedes (because, apparently, a carjacked vehicle and a kidnapped victim will draw less attention while driving to New York than the Honda Civic, which was captured never, as far as I know, on MIT surveillance cams), used an ATM machine to withdrawal $800 from Danny’s account and then pulled over for gas.  Before we get to the gas part, let’s go back to the ATM.  I just want to point out that Jahar, in the pics from the ATM, does not have any blood on him from the Collier murder.  Like…none.  Furthermore, Danny never mentions seeing any blood spatter.  Eh.  Maybe he’ll throw it in his narrative now.  I’m happy to help with testimony.  Not that it matters, the defense seems to be doing that all on their own.  Ok, the gas station.  So the official story for trial is that Danny escaped while Jahar was inside the gas station buying snacks and Tamerlan was fiddling with the GPS system.  It’s unfortunate the Department of Justice complaint doesn’t agree with that narrative.  Just saying.  And pictures from the gas station of both Tamerlan and Jahar, again, do not show them wearing blood spattered clothes.  Again, just something to note.  Although, the prosecution told the jurors yesterday they have video from the gas station showing Danny terrified and on film.  Not the gas station where he was at with the Tsarnaevs.  The gas station across the street to which he escaped.  Perhaps we’ll get a better shot of Tamerlan and Jahar in other videos?

i.  Watertown
After Danny’s sprint to sweet freedom, the Tsarnaev brothers headed back to Watertown.  Let’s talk about what the authorities did and did not know that night about the men being tracked by the Mercedes’ GPS system (What happened to the cellphone pinging?  The pinging?  Where’s the pinging story??)  according to opening statements:  they knew nothing.  And the feds are sticking with that story.  Three officers eventually tackled Tamerlan on Laurel (Pugliese, Reynolds and MacLellan) and that Jahar eventually ran over and dragged his brother about 50 feet.

j.  Donohue
The government made no mention of friendly fire and who exactly shot Officer Donohue that night.  Is that because the government is afraid that information might negate Jahar’s crimes of setting off bombs at the marathon that killed three people, murdering a police officer and involving himself in a shootout/bomb throwing contest on Laurel Street?  Or is this simply a failure to take responsibility?  Frankly, it’s shocking the police didn’t shoot anyone in their homes that night.  Seriously.  It’s a miracle.

k.  The Getaway and the Boat
Couple of things here:1.  The government argued that Jahar was shot and bleeding from the Laurel St. shootout when he ditched the Mercedes (then why didn’t K-9 units find him?).
2.  Jahar smashed his cellphones and then hid the cellphones and Danny’s ATM card in a ditch near the boat on Franklin.  One of the phones he smashed was the phone used to detonate the bomb at the marathon.  I’m not a bomb expert so I have to question: Can you use your personal cellphone to detonate a bomb and then keep using it…like, for personal use? And where exactly did he smash this phone?  “Smash” implies that he hit it against something hard, smashing it to pieces.  And when did he do this?  Did he do it when he, “made his way through the quiet sleeping neighborhood” of Watertown?   Did he do it when he jumped out of the Mercedes at Spruce and Lincoln?  Does it matter?  Yeah, it matters.  Go back to the police tapes from that night.  An officer was “pinned down” at Spruce and Lincoln where the Mercedes was found, minutes after Jahar fled.  My guess is that someone else, specifically a law enforcement officer who was not with the swarm of cops on Laurel and Dexter shooting at Jahar as he escaped in the Mercedes, was the last one to see Jahar at Spruce and Lincoln.  So yeah, it matters.  The prosecution also mentioned the writings inside the boat and assured the jurors they would see Jahar’s penned prose, actually written in pencil, at some point during the trial.

l.  The Charges
The prosecution believes that Jahar and his older brother, Tamerlan, were partners in crime and equally responsible for the tragic events that played out during that week in April, 2013.

m.  The Victims
The prosecution ended their opening statements with more heartbreaking stories about the victims.  They showed pictures of Collier, Krystle Campbell, Lingzi Lu and Martin Richard.  William Weinrab described their injuries and they were difficult to hear.  For instance, Martin Richard’s ribs were exposed, a hole was blown through him and he had almost no blood left in his body.  His mother not only experienced this horror at the marathon, she re-lived it in the courtroom yesterday.

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  1. The pros statement was “He smashed the cell phone
    that he had used to call his brother right before they
    detonated the bombs. He also smashed his other cell phone.”. This is important because, as of day 6 they have only talked about the prepaid phone he bought on 4/14, and his regular phone which was no longer in service.

    The phone record of this prepaid phone, presented by Fitzgerald,
    shows that there were no calls between the call to his brother at 2:49 and the call from his brother at 2:51. Any signal sent from his phone would be recorded by the cell tower even if it was just random numbers. Anybody can check that with their own phone record, and it can be seen in his phone record in some of the entries. From what I’ve read, a remote cell phone detonation requires hooking up one cell phone’s electronics to a circuit, which then will be activated when that phone is called; in this case that call would be made by Tsarnaev using his prepaid (except it doesn’t show up in the prepaid phone’s record).

    Therefore, as far as I can see, so far the gov has not produced evidence of a cell phone used to remotely detonate the bomb. The defense really should challenge this point, as this claim is in the indictment. It seemed a worthy point to cross examine Fitzgerald on, at least for clarification, but they passed it up like so many other points.

  2. Ah, I was wondering how that worked. Thank you. But remember, the defense in cross did say that the prosecution cherry-picked the phone calls the prosecution went over. So for all we know, there was another call. But you’re right, the prosecution has not presented that. Maybe when they call the bomb expert to the stand we’ll hear more?

  3. I thought it was his online tweets that the defense said they cherry-picked. I was referring to the information on the subscriber record, which I thought was from the company itself. I need to go back to take a look at it again. Maybe they just put select pieces of information from it into a spread sheet. BTW, really appreciate all the links you have given us.

    Anyway, thank you for all your posts, you really do marvelous work!

  4. Thanks for the link. I saw that they were using a spread sheet listing the calls instead of an actual cell phone record, so then I knew you were right. Apologies for that! As you’ve probably seen by now, the bomb expert said it was a modified remote control device that set off the bomb circuitry.

  5. Ugh, busy week, it’s been hard to keep up. “Modified remote control device” — does that mean they used a cellphone or no??

  6. I’m pretty sure it means ‘no’. Apparently remote controllers for toys operate at a much lower frequency than the narrow microwave range that cell phones operate in. Also, they operate at a specific frequency – so the toy’s own transmitter or something else at that transmits at that specific frequency would have been required.

    I think the ‘modified’ part of the description only means that the receiver (and/or the battery it normally was connected to) turned on xmas tree lights rather than a toy car’s machinery. It doesn’t seem likely the modified part refers to the frequency the device operated at.

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