I have been watching Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for ten days now but for the most part all I can see of him is a glimpse of the side of his head. Even that glimpse is only if I am lucky and the jungle of monitors, water pitchers, counselors, reporters and interested onlookers doesn’t block my view. The one good view I get is when he enters the courtroom, which happens a minimum of four times per day. My initial impression of Tsarnaev’s walk in and out was that he had a cocky swagger in his gait, but through the last three weeks that perception has gradually waned and I am now wondering if part of his gait and tilt of his head doesn’t have more to do with injuries suffered than relaxed countenance. The sketch at the top of the page is an amalgam of those ten days of glimpses and impressions.
The week began with defense counsel David Bruck giving the opening statement to a jury, many of whom may already have made up their minds. Mr. Bruck tried to make it clear that life in prison without chance of parole, as an alternative to death was not an easy out for Tsarnaev. “One punishment is over quickly, the other will last for life,” Bruck told the jury. “All he’ll be able to see through his narrow cell window is a patch of sky. There will be no e-mail, there will be no messages, there will be no autobiography. There will be no nothing,” he said. Whether this is enough of a punishment for the jury remains to be seen.
The sketch of Mr. Bruck above was drawn using binoculars from the front row. I had picked up a seat on the front row thanks to the absence of Art Lien, one of the real courtroom artists, who was instead sketching at the Supreme Court in D.C.
We started with a succession of witnesses who had been brought in seemingly to bolster the impression of Dzhokhar’s brother Tamerlan as an aggressive radicalized Jihadi and driving force in the attacks. So most of the testimony in the first two days came from a variety of witnesses recounting incidents pertaining to Tamerlan’s intolerance and hatred.
We heard from Imam Loay Assaf who testified that in 2013, three months before the bombing, Tamerlan interrupted his sermon at a local mosque “screaming and shouting” and calling him a ‘hypocrite’ after Imam Assaf praised Martin Luther King Jr. while comparing him to the prophet Muhammad.
We heard from student Robert Barnes who recounted an incident at a pizza store where a heated discussion over U.S. foreign policy between Tamerlan and another student eventually spilled onto the street outside.
We heard from Robert Ponti, Tamerlan’s onetime music teacher, in one particularly long back-and-forth between the defense and the witness. They talked about his musical ability. His attitude. How often he practiced. The teacher said he once felt “uncomfortable” when glared at by Tamerlan. Tamerlan did not pass the class.
The prosecution cross-examined. “So what you are saying is that nine years before the bombing Tamerlan Tsarnaev failed music class?”
“Yes,” the teacher replied.
No further questions from the prosecution.
We also heard from Judith Russell, Tamerlan’s mother-in-law who seemingly didn’t like him and didn’t trust him pretty much right from the get-go. “He always wanted to talk about America’s repression of the Muslim world,” she said. She broke down into tears a number of times.
We then suffered through an intense and detailed decryption of the file systems of Tamerlan’s computer. The highlight, or low light, of this was a slideshow of images from the hard drive. Mostly they were scenes of the maimed and dead from the conflict in Syria. His desktop image was of two dead toddlers lain out perpendicular to one another on a stone floor.
On Tuesday we heard a great deal of information provided through the Russian Security Services (FSB) about interviews with Russian citizens whom Tamerlan met while visiting Russia in 2012. Unredacted sections of the interview transcripts, which came from the FSB via the FBI, were read out by one of the courthouse staff. Some of those interviewed by the FSB claimed to have been held for forty days. Needless to say none of it painted Tammie in a particularly good light. According to the transcripts it transpired that Tamerlan told them that ‘Allah sent him money … and that he wanted to join the Mujahadeen.”
There is no photography in the courtroom, and no video cameras, so most of the moment-by-moment updates come from twitter and short feeds from reporters, like these ones above here.
Much of the Tamerlan related testimony elicited from the witnesses to this point only mentioned Dzhokhar’s name out loud when the prosecution cross-examined the witness.
We did hear Dzhokhar’s name finally during the questioning of the second of two paramedic teams who transported each of the brothers to the hospital. Tamerlan’s team found the handcuffed grievously wounded man less than receptive to their attempts to save his life. “Whenever we got close to him he got combative, he would yell and scream,” said Paramedic Michael Sullivan, “He had apparent gunshot wounds and a penetrating wound to the abdomen but he was resisting our attempts to treat him.” By contrast Dzhokhar’s team found him to be compliant and helpful. “He was stable and awake and alert. We uncuffed him so we could start an I.V.,” said Paramedic Laura Lee, “I asked him if he had any drug allergies and he said he was allergic to cats.” He also asked them where his brother was. “Someone (on the ambulance) told him, ‘you will find out soon,’” said Ms. Lee.
On Wednesday morning we finally shifted away from the negative Tamerlan campaigning to the positive Dzhokhar support interviewees.
Standing up as a witness for the good character of someone who has already admitted guilt in attempted mass murder cannot be easy. A few must have thought long and hard about whether they wanted to go through with it at all. For those who have, possibly reluctantly, acquiesced to step into the witness stand, it is difficult for me personally to see them as anything but brave.
Some of this testimony however was unfortunately not at all recent and therefore less than pertinent. Like his third-grade teacher, “I remember how hard he worked.” His fifth-grade teacher, “He was a sweet kid.” His middle school teacher, “He was a very good student. Teachers all loved him.”
For the most part the prosecution didn’t bother to cross-examine these witnesses. My guess at their thinking would be that the less time these folks had on the stand the less likely the jury was to be impressed by their testimony. This meant that their time on stand was extremely limited with some of the interviews over in less than fifteen minutes. Not much time to sketch and select key quotes.
The final two witnesses to testify this week were different, however. These were student friends of Dzhokhar who knew him much more recently in the weeks and months before the bombings. They would be on the stand for quite a while, although of course I couldn’t know this at the time.
First up was Tiarrah Dottin, who knew Dzhokhar as a freshman and lived in a dorm next to his at the University of Massachusetts. She described a loose knit group of friends who could depend on one another “We would all get together and drink and play video games in Dzhokhar’s room,” she said, “I called them my ‘bro-nights.’”
When shown a selfie taken by Dzhokhar of herself and the younger Tsarnaev brother she started to cry. “He was laid-back, loyal and fun. There was never an occasion when he was angry or disagreeable,” she said.
The final witness of the week was Alexa Guevara another freshman student member of the ‘bro-night’ group. She also spoke of their down time evenings away from school work when they would watch the boys play FIFA Soccer video games, drink and smoke. Hers seems to be a much more personal connection with the young Dzhokhar. She recounted how after seeing some sketches she had done he encouraged her to pursue her dream and go to art school “He said that I had talent and that I shouldn’t let it go to waste.” She also described how a month before the bombings a group of them had set off sparklers together on the banks of the Charles River. “We were all whooping and hollering, really happy. Jahar was jumping through the fireworks,” she said.
As Ms. Guevara gazed across the twelve feet of space between the witness stand and Mr. Tsarnaev who studiously continued to stare straight towards the judge, she said through tears, “I really miss the person that I knew, he was there for me.”
Mr. Tsarnaev for his part did not change his demeanor during any of the testimony this week. He sat quietly, only occasionally turning his head slightly to exchange a few words with his lawyers on either side. I managed this sketch of him during one such elongated conversation.
On Wednesday, according to her testimony, Ms. Guevara last saw Dzhokhar Tsarnaev two weeks before the bombings. At the end of defense questioning, although obviously distressed, she kept her composure as she left the stand and exited the court, but before the doors closed a wail of despair could be heard from outside.
Ms. Guevara will be back on the stand to be cross-examined by the prosecution when the trial resumes next Monday.
Full Tsarnaev trial gallery here.
This weeks’ artist of note is Eli Sobel.
Eli is a sculptor and painter from Cape Elizabeth, Maine. He is senior at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) graduating this year. When Eli first started at MICA he focused on life drawing and painting, but switched recently to printing and ceramics. Most recently he was an assistant for master printmaker David Wolfe. Sobel’s work incorporates painting, printmaking, photography, ceramics and sculpting. Below are a few prints and sketches from the past year. Personally I think his ballpoint pen work — a medium close to my own heart — is particularly rich and sensitive, and I’d love to see more.
SEE SOME SAMPLES BELOW.
You can contact Eli here at email@example.com
And see his full portfolio here — Eli Sobel
Got a question on fashion or tact or even drawing? Ask me. Got a drawing? Send it in to firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are out there and doing stuff I need to see then please do send it along. I’ll post it up here on the Washington Post’s best Urban Sketching blog.
Want to see more of my work? www.newsillustrator.com.