scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Some praise officer for bloody Tsarnaev images

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, with a red dot from a sniper’s laser sight trained on his head, surrended to authorities on April 19.Sergeant Sean P. Murphy/Massachusetts State Police via Boston Magazine

The State Police sergeant who released dramatic photos of the capture of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev without the agency’s permission received enthusiastic support Friday from an array of backers.

“The department received dozens upon dozens of calls and e-mails today from citizens around the country supporting Sergeant Murphy and what he did,” State Police spokesman David Procopio said Friday.

Sergeant Sean Murphy, who released the images of a bloody Tsarnaev to Boston Magazine Thursday, also drew praise on social media, including Twitter. He said he released the photos in response to Rolling Stone magazine’s putting Tsarnaev on its cover with an image that critics said made him look glamorous.


“Great photos,” one person wrote of Murphy’s images. “I support your decision.”

Said another, “Stay positive and strong a lot of us feel the same!!”

And a third person said: “Politics be damned!! I stand with you, sir!”

Murphy had an authorized day off Friday and will be relieved of duty Monday, pending a hearing that will probably occur the following day, said Procopio. He said Murphy faces an internal investigation, and the hearing will determine if he will be placed on full duty, restricted duty, or suspension while the review is pending.

“The investigation will determine whether he violated any rules, regulations, or policies and, if so, the department will then make a decision on disciplinary action,” Procopio said in an e-mail.

Procopio also declined to say whether Murphy could face criminal charges. Aides to state and federal prosecutors had no comment Friday on the release of the photos.

Murphy could not be reached Friday. His union referred questions to a public relations firm, which did not comment.

On Thursday, the 25-year veteran of the State Police released photos to Boston Magazine, which he took in his official capacity as a photographer with the media relations unit, of Tsarnaev’s apprehension in Watertown April 19 after a massive manhunt.


Some pictures showed a bloodied Tsarnaev emerging from a boat with the laser-
projected bead of a police sniper on his forehead.

Murphy’s images appeared first on Boston Magazine’s website Thursday afternoon. The Boston Globe and other news outlets published them later.

John Wolfson, the magazine’s editor in chief, did not respond to inquiries about the photos Thursday. But in a Web posting, the magazine said Murphy arrived unannounced at the publication’s office that morning and told staff members that he was distraught over the Rolling Stone cover.

“As he put it to us, he felt the magazine had portrayed a cop-killer as a rock star” and that his pictures “portrayed the alleged bomber in a more appropriate light,” the publication said. “He wanted to see them published immediately.”

Murphy did not receive compensation from the magazine, nor did he ask for payment, according to the posting.

Despite the enthusiastic support voiced for Murphy, there was some criticism of him on Boston Magazine’s website on Friday.

“I’m hoping that he returns to duty soon, but clearly punitive action is both appropriate and called for,” said one reader.

Another commented, “Police officers have no right to release information like this — even if you happen to agree with their motivation.”

The office of US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz, whose office is prosecuting Tsarnaev in federal court in Boston in a possible death penalty case, called Murphy’s actions “completely unacceptable” on Thursday night, and legal experts also criticized the leak.


But Thomas Drechsler, a prominent Boston defense lawyer who has represented police officers accused of misconduct, voiced support for Murphy on Friday.

Drechsler said he is “not going to jump to the conclusion that [Murphy] violated any rules or procedures” by releasing the photographs. He said he has represented dozens of officers accused of releasing information deemed private, and he cannot recall any of them being charged criminally or terminated.

Procopio would not say whether State Police guidelines explicitly bar troopers from releasing official photographs or other materials without prior authorization.

“In fairness to Sergeant Murphy and the administrative process that is underway, I do not want to specifically detail regulations/policies, other than to say that certain policies address the release of information [and] material to the public,” Procopio said. “It would be inappropriate for me to provide specific details, as Sergeant Murphy is afforded due process.”

Tsarnaev’s lawyers have not responded to inquiries about the photos.

Travis Andersen can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.