In a trial that could cost him his life, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev sat in Courtroom 9 of the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse in a beige shirt and dark suit jacket Wednesday, observing silently as his defense team and the prosecution delivered opening statements and began formal witness questioning.
The 21-year-old former University of Massachusetts Dartmouth student, along with his 26-year-old deceased brother Tamerlan, is accused of placing two bombs at the Boston Marathon finish line on April 15, 2013, killing three people and injuring more than 260. Following the marathon, a four-day search led police to Watertown, where Tsarnaev, in the midst of a police chase, ran over his older brother with a car and was later found hiding in a boat.
After 24 days of jury selection, the jury took oath at 9:34 a.m., and the trial was officially underway by 9:36 a.m. Tsarnaev has been charged with 30 federal counts — all of which he has pled not guilty to — for the events that occurred at the marathon and in the four days following the bombing.
The counts include those of conspiracy, use of weapons of mass destruction, property destruction, possession and use of firearms, carjacking, robbery and the deaths of Krystle Campbell, a 29-year-old from Medford, Martin Richard, an 8-year-old from Dorchester, Lingzi Lu, a 23-year-old Boston University graduate student from China and Sean Collier, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer who was fatally shot on MIT’s campus several days after the bombings.
In the courtroom, prosecutors provided a detailed account of the bombings, disclosing previously unknown information about the events leading up to the explosion as well as what followed — Tsarnaev’s casual trip to Whole Foods for milk, rendezvous with friends at the gym and a tweet that haunted those in attendance: “I’m a stress-free kind of guy.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney William Weinreb told jurors graphic details about the shrapnel that drained all the blood from Richard’s four-foot frame, ripped Lu’s intestines from her body and left Campbell full of gaping holes.
Weinreb described the weapons used — homemade bombs crafted from pressure cookers — as a weapon designed to harm. The bomb was filled with thousands of nails, tacks and BBs in order to “shred flesh, shatter bone, set victims on fire and disfigure.” Tsarnaev planted the bomb behind a row of children when no one was looking and then proceeded to walk briskly away.
“He pretended to be a spectator, but he had murder in his heart,” Weinreb said.
In the days following the marathon, Weinreb told the jury Tsarnaev ran from police with his older brother, allegedly committing a series of other crimes as they fled, including the carjacking of Dung Ming, who until Wednesday’s opening statements had only been known to the public as “Danny.”
On April 19, the brothers were confronted by police in Watertown. The younger Tsarnaev threw several pipe bombs and a pressure cooker bomb at officers, all of which missed them narrowly, Weinreb said.
As the elder Tsarnaev attempted to kill the officers trying to restrain him, Dzhokhar slammed on the gas pedal of his vehicle, riding “right over his brother and [dragging] his body about 50 feet down the street.” Weinreb confirmed in the courtroom Wednesday that Tamerlan’s death was, in fact, due to the impact of the car, rather than a police shootout, as had previously been announced to the public.
Weinreb put a special emphasis on the fact that the Tsarnaev brothers were “partners in crime,” but noted that in the end, the jury does not need to determine which brother played each role, only that they worked hand-in-hand and “committed the crime together.”
When defense attorney Judy Clarke took the stand, she opened by describing the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the events that followed as “senseless, horribly misguided acts carried out by two brothers.”
Clarke plainly told the jury: “It was him.”
Clarke told a different story of the relationship between the defendant and his older brother. She described Dzhokhar as despondent, struggling in school and looking to his brother for support. Tamerlan, Clarke said, planned the “horrific acts” and convinced his brother to join him.
The younger Tsarnaev brother was “drawn into his brother’s passion and plan,” Clarke said.
The defense team concluded its opening statements after 20 minutes, less than half the time taken by the prosecution. Clarke made a request to the jury before leaving the stand: “Hold your questions throughout the trial … open your hearts and your minds to thinking about the evidence all the way.”
After a brief mid-morning break, the first witness, Thomas Grilk, Boston Athletic Association executive director, took the stand. His testimony provided the basis for understanding the logistics of the Boston Marathon. He told the jury about the history, costs and attendance of an average race. When asked to describe the 2013 Boston Marathon, he said briefly, “2013 began as any marathon had.”
The second witness called to the stand was Shane O’Hara, the store manager of Marathon Sports, a store near the finish line where Tamerlan Tsarnaev set off the first two bombs. A teary-eyed O’Hara confirmed his presence in surveillance videos of the bombing, where he is shown rushing to use merchandise in the store to help stop victims’ bleeding.
“Things that haunt me was making decisions,” O’Hara said. “Who needed help first? Who is more injured than the other? It was like anything you see in the movies that I never thought I would see in real life.”
The third witness was Colton Kilgore, a self-employed auto detailer from North Carolina who was at the 2013 Boston Marathon to watch his mother-in-law finish the race. At the time of the explosion, Kilgore and his family were at the finish line. He had a camera around his neck and when he understood the reality of it all, he pressed the record button. The high-definition videos were presented as evidence and shocked jurors with graphic details — a first-person narrative of the screaming, bleeding and terrorized people around him. Some were his friends. Some were family.
The fourth witness called to the stand was Colton Kilgore’s brother-in-law’s wife — Rebekah Gregory, of Texas.
“I remember being thrown back. I remember trying to get up, and I couldn’t. I was looking all around to figure out what was going on. I looked down, and I couldn’t see my leg,” said Gregory, who lost her left leg in the explosion. “My bones were literally laying next to me on the sidewalk. At that point, I felt like that was the day I would die.”
Gregory was with her 5-year-old son, Noah, when the bombs detonated.
“When I lifted up my arm, bones were sticking up out of my left hand. I was helpless as a mother, and I could do nothing to help Noah. I saw the terror on everyone’s faces. I could hear my little boy,” Gregory said. “Mommy, mommy, mommy.”
Sydney Corcoran, now a sophomore at Merrimack College, was just 17 when she went with her parents to watch her aunt finish the 2013 marathon.
“I was getting increasingly cold. I knew I was dying. I was having moments of panic. I saw carnage and blood on the street. I still had no idea what had happened. I just knew it was bad,” Corcoran said. “I almost felt peaceful because I just felt like I was going to sleep, and I knew I was fading fast.”
Karen Rand McWatters, the final witness to take the stand Wednesday, was a friend and coworker of victim Campbell, who recalled holding her friend’s hand after the bomb went off.
“She said, ‘my legs hurt’ and her hand went limp in mine, and she never spoke again,” said McWatters, who lost a leg. “At that moment, it was hard to imagine what was really going on.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated the wrong location of death of MIT Police Officer Sean Collier. The article has been edited with this change.