Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, suspect in Boston Marathon bombing, enters not guilty pleas

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing in April, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in federal court Wednesday. Victims of the attack and their families were frustrated by Tsarnaev’s demeanor:

“I thought that maybe he would come with a different attitude or maybe look a little different, maybe look like he cared a little bit. But he didn’t show me that,” said Peter Brown, whose two nephews each lost their right legs in the explosions.

Tsarnaev gave a small, lopsided smile to his two sisters upon arriving in the courtroom. He appeared to have a jaw injury and there was swelling around his left eye and cheek.

Leaning into the microphone, he told a federal judge, “Not guilty,” in his Russian accent. Then he was led away in handcuffs, making a kissing gesture toward his sisters with his lips. One sobbed loudly, resting her head on a woman seated next to her.

Tsarnaev, who has been hospitalized since his capture with wounds suffered in a shootout and getaway attempt, faces 30 federal charges, including using a weapon of mass destruction to kill, in connection with the April 15 twin explosions that left three people dead and more than 260 wounded. Tsarnaev also is charged in the killing of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer and the carjacking of a motorist during a getaway attempt. He could get the death penalty if prosecutors choose to pursue it.

The proceedings took place in a heavily guarded courtroom packed not only with victims and their families but with police officers, the public and the media.

The Russian immigrant and former college student looked much as he did in a photo widely circulated after his arrest, his hair curly and unkempt. Wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, he appeared nonchalant, almost bored, during the hearing. The cast covered his left forearm, hand and fingers.

MIT Police Chief John DiFava, who was in the courtroom, said Tsarnaev looked “smug.”

“I didn’t see a lot of remorse. I didn’t see a lot of regret,” he said. “It just seemed to me that if I was in that position, I would have been a lot more nervous, certainly scared.”

DiFava added: “I just wanted to see him. I wanted to see the person that so coldly and callously killed four people, one of whom being an officer of mine.”

Authorities say Tsarnaev orchestrated the bombing along with his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who died following a gunbattle with police several days after the attack. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was arrested on April 19, hiding in a bloodstained boat in a suburban backyard after a manhunt that paralyzed much of the Boston area.

Associated Press

Boston Marathon bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, pleaded not guilty on Wednesday, his first public appearance since April. (Associated Press)

Attorney General Eric Holder could seek the death penalty for Tsarnaev:

It is the highest-profile such decision yet to come before Holder, who personally opposes the death penalty. . .

Holder, in making his decision, will get plenty of advice.

“If you have the death penalty and don’t use it in this kind of case where someone puts bombs down in crowds of civilians, then in what kind of case do you use it?” said Aitan D. Goelman, who was part of the legal team that prosecuted Oklahoma City bombing figures Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.

In the past 4 ½ years, the Justice Department has sought executions in several instances. But, in an indication of how protracted the process can be, none of the administration’s cases has yet put anyone on death row.

Massachusetts abolished its own death penalty in 1984, but Tsarnaev is being prosecuted in federal court. Since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988, only three people, including McVeigh, have been executed. Others have pending appeals.

Associated Press

Earlier Wednesday, officials discussed the bombings at a Senate hearing in Washington:

Tsarnaev’s court appearance came hours after Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis III called for federal authorities, including the FBI, to share more information on terrorism threats with local police.

Addressing the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Davis said that Boston police were never told that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had traveled to Russia and said there was a “gap” in intelligence sharing.

“I think that if there is information that comes in about a terrorist threat to a particular city, the local officials should have that information,” he said.

Davis said he wasn’t suggesting that “we would have done anything different had we had the information that the FBI had prior to this,” but added that a “full and equal partnership” was needed.

The police chief cited advance planning and “unprecedented levels of coordination” between local, state and federal agencies as the reason Tsarnaev was captured within a few days of the attack.

Speaking at the same hearing, Arthur Kellermann, an expert in disaster management who works for the Rand Corporation, warned that Boston had been been particularly well prepared to cope with a terrorist attack and that other U.S. cities were much less so.

He said there was “ample reason to worry,” highlighting concerns about crowding in emergency rooms in many hospitals across the United States, which he warned would hamper efforts to provide urgent medical care.

Billy Kenber

For past coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing, continue reading here.

Max Ehrenfreund is a blogger on the Financial desk and writes for Know More and Wonkblog.
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