Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Pleads ‘Not Guilty’ During Federal Court Appearance [Updated]
Outside the federal courtroom where Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev appeared for the first time in front of a judge, people supporting the victims and families impacted by the Marathon attack gathered together.
And in that same stretch of hallway, those who claim that the 19-year-old is innocent wore shirts calling for his release.
Tsarnaev, who stands accused of setting off bombs with his older brother, Tamerlan, on April 15 on Boylston Street, plead not guilty to 30 charges brought against him by federal prosecutors at the Moakley U.S. District Court on Wednesday, standing idly in a bright orange, unbuttoned jumpsuit, and wearing a soft cast around his left wrist.
All around Tsarnaev, whose shaggy, unkempt hair hung above his eyes, victims of the bombing sat quietly as the charges were read in court.
Tsarnaev, arrested on April 19 while hiding inside a dry-docked boat in Watertown following a police chase and shootout, appeared non-chalant, scratching at his chin and fiddling with his cast as prosecutors relayed the lengthy list of charges, including allegations that he used a weapon of mass destruction to kill and maim bystanders at the Marathon.
From start to finish, the arraignment took less than 10 minutes, with Tsarnaev casually leaning towards the microphone positioned on the desk in front of him, repeatedly stating he was “not guilty” on all 30 counts, 17 of which carry the death penalty or life in prison.
Victims were offered a chance to speak at Wednesday’s brief hearing, but no one did. Filing into the courtroom, people hurt in the blasts, some of which had crutches and braces fastened to their legs, refused to comment on the arraignment.
Prior to Tsarnaev’s courtroom appearance, friends of the suspect lingered in line with the rest of the general public, waiting for a chance to see him and let him know “he’s not alone.”
Alray, 20, who didn’t want to give his last name, was on Tsarnaev’s wrestling team during high school, and said he was in awe when he saw his former teammate’s photo broadcast on national television in the days following the attack. “It was a big shock,” he said, sitting on the ground in the hallway outside the courtroom with two of Tsarnaev’s former classmates from Cambridge Rindge and Latin. “I was definitely in denial … [but] I don’t feel like it’s hard to support him because people don’t know him like we do. They don’t know his real personality.”
Brigitte, 19, said she believed Tsarnaev was “innocent” until proven guilty, and she wanted clarification about his alleged involvement with the blasts. “We want some … answers. We are hoping that’s what happens today,” she said. “We just want to see him, and see if he is alright.”
Ahead of his former classmates, supporters who didn’t know Tsarnaev personally stood close to the courtroom doors wearing custom-made T-shirts with the suspect’s face plastered on them alongside the words “Free the Lion,” a reference to Tsarnaev’s Twitter avatar.
Lacey Buckley, who flew to Boston from Washington a day before the hearing, said she thinks Tsarnaev, and his older brother, Tamerlan, who was killed in a shootout with police four days after the Marathon bombing, are both innocent. “I want [Dzhokhar] to know there are people out here that support him. There is nothing saying he is guilty—except for a video of two boys hanging out at the Marathon with bags on. I have a bag now,” she said, pointing down to a knapsack at her feet. “It’s ridiculous.”
Buckley, one of more than a dozen people who were vocal about their support for Tsarnaev on Wednesday, said she was “heckled” and yelled at by people for her opinion when entering the building. She didn’t care. “My heart breaks for the victims, it really does, they deserve justice, but blaming [Dzhokar] isn’t doing justice.”
As the hearing proceeded, outside the courthouse, a different group of people, those there for the victims impacted by the marathon attack, lined the roadway. In a show of support for MIT Officer Sean Collier, who was allegedly shot and killed by the Tsarnaev brothers on April 19, dozens of officers from the MIT Police Department stood at attention in a row that stretched along the sidewalk adjacent to the facility’s entrance.
Tsarnaev is also facing charges in connection with the death of Collier. “He has to pay the penalty,” said MIT Police Chief John DiFava, expressing his sincere discontent for the suspect, calling him a “punk” before shifting his focus back to the officers who came to support the slain officer.
Moments after DiFava spoke to reporters, Tsarnaev was whisked away from the courthouse in a police motorcade, presumably back to where he was being held at Fort Devens.
While some sympathized with the suspect, proudly proclaiming his innocence, prosecutors seem confident in the case they are building against Tsarnaev.
On June 27, a federal grand jury released a 73-page indictment that claimed Tsarnaev wrote a cryptic message on the inside of the boat where he was hiding in Watertown, before his capture, claiming responsibility for the horrendous marathon attack. The indictment charges that the brothers learned how to make the explosives used the day of the bombing after downloading an English language online publication distributed by members of al-Qaeda, called Inspire Magazine. Officials said the magazine contained detailed instructions on how to assemble a pressure cooker bomb using fireworks and shrapnel similar to the ones the bombers used on April 15.
Charges against the 19-year-old suspect include conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, using a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death, and possession of a firearm. Seventeen of the 30 charges could lead to the death penalty if convicted, according to federal officials investigating the case. Tsarnaev also faces charges in Middlesex District Court.
The suspect’s trial is anticipated to last at least four months, with the government expected to call approximately 80 to 100 witnesses to the stand. The next court date and appearance is set for September 23, according to federal officials.