As he hid in a boat stored in a Watertown backyard, a wounded Dzhokhar Tsarnaev scrawled a message in pencil on the inside panels. On Tuesday in federal court, a jury got to read those words, which were interrupted by bullet holes and smeared with blood.
“The US government is killing our innocent civilians . . . I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished,” Tsarnaev wrote in what prosecutors in the Boston Marathon bombing case have characterized as a confession.
“Know you are fighting men who look into the barrel of your gun and see heaven. . . . ” Tsarnaev wrote. “We are promised victory and we will surely get it.”
The message, which was disclosed in its complete form for the first time, has become central to Tsarnaev’s trial in federal court in Boston as prosecutors hope to show that he was not only lucid in the hours before his capture, but that he articulated a clear motive for the Marathon bombings.
Defense lawyers hope, however, that the bullet-riddled boat will show jurors that Tsarnaev was in a fragile state of mind when he wrote the message, suggesting that the sentiments in the note were not genuine. They have asked that the jury be allowed to see the entire vessel while prosecutors have proposed cutting the messages from the boat panels and presenting them to the jurors in the courtroom. On Tuesday, only photos and a transcript were shown.
The court proceedings ended early Tuesday, so that US District Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. could see the boat for himself. He could decide to have the boat brought to the courthouse; bring jurors to where the boat is being stored; or let prosecutors cut the message out of the boat panels to bring the pieces to the courtroom. O’Toole has not said when he would make a decision.
Tsarnaev was found hiding in the boat four days after the bombings. He and his older brother, Tamerlan, shot and killed MIT Police Officer Sean Collier on April 18, 2013, before engaging in a violent confrontation with police in Watertown early on April 19, In that confrontation, a Transit Police officer was shot and Tamerlan was fatally wounded when he was shot by officers and then run over by his brother, authorities have said.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev managed to escape and a manhunt ensued. Shortly after authorities lifted a lockdown in Watertown, Tsarnaev was discovered.
David Henneberry, a 66-year-old Watertown resident, had noticed that some padding to protect the hull of his 24-foot boat had fallen to the ground. He went outside to fix it and grabbed a stepladder to examine the boat, which he called Slip Away II.
After lifting a piece of shrink-wrap, he noticed blood splattered on the deck. He looked inside and saw a body curled in a fetal position.
“Oh my God, he’s in there,” Henneberry told the Globe in the fall of 2013.
An army of law enforcement officials descended on the boat and fired multiple rounds before hostage negotiators persuaded Tsarnaev to surrender.
Todd Brown, a Boston police bomb technician, testified on Tuesday he intended to sweep the boat for explosive devices after Tsarnaev’s capture when he noticed the message written in pencil. He said he found no bombs or other weapons.
Tsarnaev referred to his deceased brother in his note: “I’m jealous of my brother who . . . received the reward of jannutul Firdaus (inshallah) before me. I do not mourn because his soul is very much alive. God has a plan for each person. Mine was to hide in his [sic] boat and shed some light on our actions.”
“Jannutul Firdaus’’ translates roughly into “the highest paradise.”
Tsarnaev added, “I ask Allah to make me a shahied [sic] . . . to allow me to return to him and be among all the righteous people in the highest levels of heaven.” “Shaheed’’ translates roughly into “witness, or martyr.’’
In opening statements, Tsarnaev’s lawyer, Judy Clarke, admitted that her client helped set off the bombs at the Marathon finish line, killing three people and injuring more than 260, even though he has pleaded not guilty to the charges he faces.
Seventeen of those charges carry the possibility of the death penalty, and his lawyers have sought to use the trial to show that Tamerlan was the mastermind of the attacks and that their client is less culpable and therefore less deserving of the death penalty.
Jurors have heard from 34 witnesses over four days of testimony, including police and other emergency personnel who described the chaos, and victims who gave heartwrenching accounts of their injuries.
On Tuesday, several FBI agents described the work that went into preserving the crime scene and the search for evidence. The bodies of the three people killed in the blasts remained at the scene for hours.
Officials also had to wait until the Boston bomb squad could sweep the area for a possible third explosive device. Then, investigators mapped out a grid of the two bombing scenes and combed the area for evidence, including blood-stained clothing and shrapnel.
“There was a lot of debris in a very small area,” testified Jeffrey Rolands, an FBI special agent who helped map the scene. In all, FBI agents said, hundreds of pieces of evidence were collected.
Some of the evidence was reviewed and marked at an FBI command center at Black Falcon Pier in Boston, before being taken by plane to an FBI laboratory in Quantico, Va.
“We collected everything, from human remains to bomb components to backpacks,’’ testified Sarah DeLair, an FBI special agent, adding that the state medical examiner’s office continued to return to the scene to pick up the human remains.
As she testified, a government team maneuvered 14 brown boxes of evidence to the side of the witness stand.
“There was collection from the street, we did rooftops, we even went inside buildings,” DeLair said.
She is slated to return to the witness stand Wednesday.