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Source of gun used by Tsarnaevs to kill Sean Collier pleads guilty

Sean Collier.AP Photo/Middlesex District Attorney’s Office

A local man pleaded guilty in federal court in Boston Thursday to charges that he once illegally possessed the gun that was later used by the Tsarnaev brothers to kill MIT police officer Sean Collier days after the Boston Marathon bombing.

Merhawi Berhe, who also goes by the name Howie, pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of a firearm with an obliterated serial number. He is slated to be sentenced June 16 and faces over a year in prison.

Stephen Silva, a onetime friend of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, testified in Tsarnaev’s federal death penalty trial last year that he loaned Tsarnaev a gun that belonged to Berhe, whom he referred to as “Howie.” Prosecutors did not confirm that Berhe and “Howie” are the same person; however, according to a person with knowledge of the case, they are the same.


Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan, used the gun, a P-95 Ruger, several days after the April 15, 2013, bombing to kill Collier, carjack a Chinese entrepreneur, and engage police in a shootout in Watertown. Silva testified that he gave Dzhokhar Tsarnaev the gun in February 2013, two months before the bombing.

He testified that in succeeding weeks he demanded that Tsarnaev return the gun, but Tsarnaev refused. “I wanted it back. . . . The person who gave it to me, Howie . . . wanted it back,’’ Silva said. “But he just kept coming up with excuses.’’

Authorities said Berhe possessed the Ruger “in or about the fall and winter of 2012” in Cambridge and elsewhere.

Tsarnaev was sentenced to death in June for his role in the bombing, which killed three and wounded more than 260 others. He and his brother were partners in the bombing and in the violence they wreaked several days later.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev died during the confrontation with police in Watertown after he was shot by police then run over by his brother as he fled.


Silva, who cooperated with authorities and agreed to testify against Tsarnaev, was also convicted of a charge of possessing a firearm with an obliterated serial number, as well as heroin-dealing charges.

He was sentenced in December to time served after spending 17 months in prison, a
sentence that was based on his cooperation with the government.

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MiltonValencia