Dzhokhar Tsarnaev lawyers admit his part in Boston bombing

Defence seeks to shift blame for attack and killing of police officer to older Tsarnaev brother

Undated file image released by the FBI of Boston marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. File photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Undated file image released by the FBI of Boston marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. File photograph: AFP/Getty Images


Lawyers for the man accused of conspiring to kill three people and injuring more than 260 in twin bombings near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon have admitted he was involved in the blasts.

On the opening day of the long-awaited trial, a defence attorney for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (21) said he and his older brother Tamerlan (26), Chechen-American Muslims, were behind the explosions, the worst attack on US soil since the attacks of September 11th, 2001.

Attorney Judy Clarke, in her opening statement, sought to shift the blame for the deadly attack and the killing of a Massachusetts university police officer three days later onto the older Tsarnaev brother, who was killed after a shoot-out with police.

‘Obsessed with extremism’

Tamerlan became “obsessed with violent Islamic extremism”, she said, and had explored violent religious jihad during a six-month visit to Russia in 2012.

He had a special influence on his younger brother, dictated by his age, culture and “sheer force of personality”, she said.

“It was Tamerlan Tsarnaev who self-radicalised,” she said. “It was Dzhokhar who followed him.”

The surviving suspect faces 30 charges, 17 of which carry the death penalty, connected with the April 15th twin blasts that killed catering manager Krystle Campbell (29), Chinese student Lu Lingzi (23) and Martin Richard (8).

He is also charged in the April 18th killing of Massachusetts Institute of Technology policeman Sean Collier.

Tsarnaev’s lawyer said the bombings were “misguided acts” by the two brothers, and that there was “little that we dispute” in the evidence to be presented to the court by prosecutors. “It was him.”

The reason why he detonated a bomb was “where we disagree”, she added.

Ms Clarke held up two photographs, one showing the elder Tsarnaev smiling and sitting next to the much younger Dzhokhar with his arm draped around him, and the second, a screengrab of security video showing the brothers walking down Boylston Street with backpacks allegedly containing home-made pressure-cooker bombs.

“What took Dzhokhar from this to this?” she asked, pointing to the two photographs.

Brother ‘enlisted’

Tamerlan “planned and orchestrated” the attack and “enlisted his brother to carry out these horrific acts”, she said.

She urged the jury to “hold your minds and hearts open, not only to the who, what, where and why, but also the how and why”.

Prosecutor William Weinreb, opening the death penalty case, painted Dzhokhar, a US citizen, as a jihadist intent on avenging the deaths of Muslims by the US military, believing his attacks on Americans would help him to reach paradise.

In a statement laden with very graphic and moving details about the deaths and injuries of the victims, the assistant US attorney said Tsarnaev “pretended to be a spectator” as he stood at the marathon route on Boylston Street in Boston “but he had murder in his heart”.

He pointed to words Tsarnaev had written in a dry-docked boat in the back garden of a Boston suburban house where he was captured by police the day after his brother was killed in a shoot-out with police.

“We Muslims are one body. You hurt one, you hurt us all,” Mr Weinreb said Tsarnaev wrote on the boat as he lay injured.

‘Jealous’ of brother

Ms Clarke said Tsarnaev was “jealous of his brother who achieved martyrdom” and appealed to the jury to evaluate “how deeply rooted” were his views when he wrote those words.

The jury was shown previously unseen footage of video recorded by Colton Kilgore, a spectator at the marathon from North Carolina, whose family members were severely injured in the first blast.

He told the court that he remembered smelling smoke and an acrid, pungent odour and seeing “blood, flesh” on the ground.

His footage showed blood-stained ball bearings at the site of the first blast and a severe blast injury to his sister-in-law’s leg next to him.

Rebecca Gregory, whose leg was amputated last year in her 18th surgery since being injured in the Boston bombings, testified about seeing her bones lying next to her and body parts on the footpath.

“At that point, I thought today was the day I would die,” she said.