For the first time since he emerged covered in blood from a boat in a Watertown backyard, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will appear in federal court Wednesday in Boston to face charges that he used weapons of mass destruction to kill three people and wound more than 260 others at the Boston Marathon.
Tsarnaev, who is also accused of killing an MIT police officer, faces 30 federal criminal charges, including use of a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death and bombing of a place of public use resulting in death. Authorities allege that the 19-year-old was inspired by Al Qaeda publications and that he left a confession in the boat justifying the bombings as payback for US military action in Muslim countries.
Seventeen of the charges carry the possibility of the death penalty, which hasn’t been applied in Massachusetts in 66 years and has been banned here for state cases since 1984. But because Tsarnaev is charged under federal law, he could face death for his alleged crimes.
The other charges against Tsarnaev carry the possibility of life in prison.
The appearance of the former University of Massachusetts Dartmouth student is expected to be brief and under heavy guard. It should answer questions about the extent of injuries he sustained during a firefight with police the night before he was captured and how much he has recovered over the past 2½ months. His older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev
Prosecutors said they expect a packed courtroom at US District Court on Wednesday afternoon. They have set aside seats for victims, and because of limited capacity, they may use a lottery to decide who gets in the courtroom. They are providing an overflow room for victims to watch the proceedings on closed-circuit television.
Several victims who were wounded in the bombings said they have no interest in attending either the arraignment or the trial, which may not begin for more than a year.
Patricia Campbell, whose 29-year-old daughter Krystle died when the first bomb detonated a few yards from the finish line, said she and her family are still weighing whether to go to the South Boston courthouse. “I don’t know if I want to be there,” she said. “It’s not like there’s anything I can do to him.”
A longtime opponent of the death penalty, she has been rethinking her position in recent weeks. “Under the circumstances, an eye for an eye feels appropriate,” she said. Only three people have been executed under the federal death penalty since it was reinstated in 1988.
Campbell said she mostly hopes to learn what would possess anyone to plant bombs in a crowd of people who had done nothing more than come to cheer for others, an act of good will and love.
“Why would someone spoil such a day that so many people worked so hard for?” she said. “I just don’t understand it. You can’t have feelings to do something like that — only hate.”
As much as she would like to see Tsarnaev face justice, she intends to move on. “I miss Krystle deeply. You still expect her to come in the door,” she said. “But you have to accept the things you can’t change.”
Susan Girouard, whose 20-year-old daughter Sarah suffered shrapnel wounds to her legs after the first bomb exploded, said no one in her family wanted to travel from their home in Falmouth, Maine, to see Tsarnaev.
“We aren’t giving the legal process much thought at this point,” she said. “I just hope justice is served.”
She said her daughter has largely recovered from the injuries to her legs but is still suffering from a ruptured ear drum.
“What I just can’t understand about this is how a young boy can live here in the United States and have someone twist his mind to do something like that,” she said. “I don’t get it.”
The family of 8-year-old Martin Richard, the youngest of the three people killed by the bombings, does not plan to attend the arraignment, said family spokesman Larry Marchese. Martin’s 7-year-old sister, Jane, lost a leg when the second bomb went off. Their mother, Denise, lost vision in one eye and suffered burns. Their father, Bill, sustained shrapnel wounds, burns to his legs, and hearing loss.
“The Richard family remains focused on healing and recovery, which has been an ongoing process for all of them,” Marchese said.
According to the indictment, released last month, Tsarnaev allegedly wrote a confession in the boat that acknowledged “it is forbidden” in Islam to kill innocent people. But prosecutors say he justified his actions because the “US government is killing our innocent civilians.”
“I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished,” he allegedly wrote. “We Muslims are one body; you hurt one, you hurt us all. Stop killing our innocent people, we will stop.”
The indictment alleges that sometime before the bombings, Tsarnaev downloaded extremist Islamic propaganda from the Internet, including material that directed Muslims against giving their allegiance to governments that invade Muslim lands and writings by Anwar al-Awlaki, the American citizen who became a senior operative in Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen and who was killed in a 2011 drone strike.
At a press conference last month, US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said it would be up to US Attorney General Eric Holder whether to seek the death penalty. “There are a number of different levels of review,” she said at the time, adding that her office will seek input from victims’ families before making a recommendation to the attorney general about the death penalty.
The federal charges also include malicious destruction of property resulting in death, and conspiring to do those crimes, as well as use of a firearm during and in relation to a violent crime, and carjacking resulting in serious injury, federal prosecutors said.
Tsarnaev, who was hospitalized at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center after his capture on April 19, will be escorted by deputies from the US Marshals Service from a locked medical facility for male prisoners at Fort Devens.
His arraignment is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. and seats will be set aside for the general public, prosecutors said.David Abel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davabel.