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Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, will appear in court in Boston on Wednesday afternoon to be arraigned on 30 federal charges in connection with the April 15th bombings at the Boston Marathon.
He’s charged with using a weapon of mass destruction in the attack that killed three people and wounded more than 260. Tsarnaev is also accused of killing an MIT police officer on April 19th.
Seventeen of the charges could result in the death penalty if Tsarnaev is convicted.
Victims and victims’ family members are expected to be in the courtroom.
Tsarnaev is accused of carrying out the attack with his older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was killed in a confrontation with police on April 19, hours before Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was discovered hiding out inside a boat in a backyard in Watertown, Mass.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW. And we start today with a highly anticipated first court appearance of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The 19-year-old is being arraigned today in federal court in Boston. In a moment we'll speak with defense attorney Alan Dershowitz about the case.
HOBSON: Tsarnaev faces 30 federal criminal charges, including using a weapon of mass destruction in those bombings back on April 15th. Three people were killed, more than 260 wounded. Tsarnaev is also charged with the murder of an MIT police officer three days after the bombings, when he and his brother Tamerlan allegedly tried to steal the officer's weapon. Tamerlan was later killed in a violent encounter with police that night.
Deborah Becker from WBUR is at the courthouse. And Deb, first just tell us, what's the scene like there?
DEBORAH BECKER: Well, the scene, as you can imagine, is chaotic, a lot of media more than anything else here right now, and I'm talking media from Russia, France, all over the world here waiting to get into this arraignment. Folks are waiting in line. It's a first-come, first-served, so it's - a lot of folks are really eager to get in. And not only that, the courtroom where this arraignment is being held is next door to the courtroom where the trial is going on of accused mobster James "Whitey" Bulger.
So you have both of these things happening right next to each other. So it is chaotic. There are a lot of federal Homeland Security out front. There are Jersey barriers erected, and there's also a lot of security.
HOBSON: What about the victims of the bombing? Will there be any room for them in the courtroom? Will any of them be going?
BECKER: Some of them say that they will be going. Some said they hadn't decided yet if they would be in the courtroom today. The U.S. attorney's office says that it notified all victims about today's arraignment, but it does not know an exact number of how many may show up today. It does say that it set aside about half of the 110 seats in the courtroom just for victims and victims' family members. And if need be there's a private overflow room for victims.
There's also room in the courtroom for the defendant's family today. We are not sure if any members of the Tsarnaev family will be there. And there is room set aside for law enforcement officers, as well. Apparently they are also coming to show support for the police officer killed and the other police officer injured in this.
HOBSON: And we've been reaching out here at HERE AND NOW to some of the victims of the bombing, and some of them don't even want to go today. So there may be more room than they need for victims to be there at the arraignment. But Deb, what about security? How is that being dealt with? I know that it's a federal courthouse, there's always going to be tight security but maybe more so today.
BECKER: Security is very tight, as I mentioned. I just saw about a dozen Boston police officers and federal protection officers sort of sweep the courtroom. And they also have to be careful because it is open to the public, as well. I talked with one young woman who said that she came down to see the "Whitey" Bulger trial in the morning, and she was going to try to get to the Tsarnaev arraignment in the afternoon, as well.
So they're trying to accommodate everyone. So security is very tight.
HOBSON: Well as we said, this is going to be the first time that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev appears in public. Where has he been held all this time?
BECKER: Well, he's been held - he was hospitalized, I mean, and then he was transferred to the Federal Correctional Medical Facility at Fort Devens in Massachusetts. That's about a 45-minute drive away from Boston, a little bit northwest of Boston. And the U.S. Marshalls Office did confirm that they are escorting Dzhokhar Tsarnaev here today for his court appearance.
HOBSON: And tell us about the charges that he faces.
BECKER: Well, he faces 30 counts. The counts say that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his late brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev used improvised explosives in an attack on the Boston Marathon on April 15th. The indictment says that the brothers downloaded Islamist propaganda material, that some of it's been linked to al-Qaeda, about bomb-making from the Internet and about attacking American citizens.
HOBSON: Are we expected to hear from him today?
BECKER: I doubt it. I expect that he may just say not guilty.
HOBSON: WBUR's Deborah Becker, speaking to us from the federal courthouse in Boston, where marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will be arraigned today. Deb, thanks a lot.
BECKER: Thank you.
YOUNG: Let's bring in law professor and defense attorney Alan Dershowitz. Alan, innocent until proven guilty, but when we spoke with you in April, you said this was an open and shut case. Do you still feel that way?
ALAN DERSHOWITZ: It's certainly an open and shut case that the defendant was at the scene of the crime and planted the bomb that caused all the injury. Whether they could prove terrorism, if they charged him with that, requiring an intent to cause disruption and that kind of thing, is a harder question and probably explains why they didn't go after him on a terrorism charge, although they can always change that.
They can always add elements to the indictment.
YOUNG: Well, you have said, and you wrote a piece back in April about how he could have and should have been indicted as a terrorist, but you understood, as you just said, why he wasn't. There's so much evidence, there's no need to put jihad on trial, which would potentially make a martyr out of him. But since we spoke, officials say they found those writings in the boat where Dzhokhar was captured. They claimed that they were writings in which he said that he launched the attack because of the U.S. killing Muslims in other countries and other wars.
Does that change your mind about the terrorism charge? Do you think - you're saying they might still. Do you think they should?
DERSHOWITZ: Well, I think probably they should. That would be the more honest approach to this, rather than talking about a weapon of mass destruction. This isn't a weapon of mass destruction. When we think of a weapon of mass destruction, we think of nuclear weapons or chemical weapons. So it would be much more honest to charge him as a terrorist.
That of course opens up the door to allowing him to defend and say I did it because they're killing my fellow co-religionists in different parts of the world. A judge might exclude that evidence, but it would make for a cleaner, neater trial if they just limited it to the weapon of mass destruction, but a less honest trial.
YOUNG: Well, how would you defend him, if you were his lawyers?
DERSHOWITZ: Well, I think the only possible defenses are my brother made me do it, which is going to be a very, very hard defense because he is seen at the scene as an independent actor. His other defense could be just a political defense: I did it, I know you're going to punish me, but that's what my creed requires me to do. That's not really a defense, that's just an explanation.
He may also try to defend against the death penalty if the decision is made ultimately to charge him with a capital crime, and then he could, you know, look to his mental state, his youth, other mitigating factors. But I don't see an absolute defense. Certainly I don't see a defense of I didn't do it, it wasn't me.
YOUNG: You're a lifelong opponent of capital punishment. You don't think the Justice Department should ask for the death penalty. Some would say if there was ever a case, this is it.
DERSHOWITZ: I think that's right, and if there was ever a case, this is it, and if they don't ask for the death penalty in this case, it shows there never was a case, and there never will be a case.
YOUNG: Well, but I'm wondering if there's a mitigating factor there. The early narrative about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was that he was a disenfranchised immigrant, he wasn't accepted at his high school, and here's where I will make my full disclosure. I said at that time, and I'll say it again now, I knew Dzhokhar. My nephew knew him well. They went to school together. Many of Dzhokhar's friends from school came forward to say that that narrative was wrong, that he was actually a very popular, well-liked young man.
Now a lot of people at the time, understandably, did not want to hear that because it makes for a far more complicated story. You know, it's easier to believe that people who would do this would have been troubled, and maybe we could spot them. But that narrative has held since then.
DERSHOWITZ: Well, it's a false narrative, and it's not an excuse. Here's a man who was given everything, given all kind of education opportunities that people born in America often don't get. He at some point got caught up in the jihadist radical mindset. We know that he was looking at websites.
But the First Amendment tells us we don't stop the people who are inciting. We don't try to ban or censor the imams or the other radicals. We draw the line at the person who acts on that because to go after the people who do the speaking endangers our freedom of expression.
YOUNG: Well, I guess you just answered my question, which was going to be: Do you think the defense brings in that narrative, this idea that so many people came forward to say, well, wait a second, whatever happened, it was horrendous, but he was not the troubled or disenfranchised kid, he was a good kid before this? It sounds like you're saying that would be a bad move for the defense.
DERSHOWITZ: It's certainly a knife that cuts both ways. It's certainly something that the prosecution could use, as well, saying this is a guy who has no excuse. So I don't think that defense, if it is a defense, would work at all.
YOUNG: Your thoughts, though, Alan Dershowitz, on Judy Clark being on the defense team? She defended the Unabomber, the Atlanta Olympics bomber and more recently the Tucson, Arizona, shooter Jared Loughner.
DERSHOWITZ: This guy's the luckiest guy in the world to get her as a defense lawyer. She is one of the best in the country, and, you know, people who are ordinary criminals, even ordinary murderers, don't get lawyers like her. It's part of the process. This guy's gotten everything. He's gotten the best high school education, he got a good college education, now he has the best lawyer in the world, and he's still not appreciative. He still thinks America is a terrible place.
It just shows a character flaw, a deeply - in my view, a deeply unappreciative and evil person, rather than somebody who has a reason to explain why he did what he did.
YOUNG: Should the trial be moved out of Boston? You had mentioned when we spoke last April, that it might be moved out to Springfield, which is in the western part of Massachusetts. But would it need to be moved out of the state entirely?
DERSHOWITZ: No, I think it could moved somewhere else in Boston. And the defense attorney has to make that decision, and they may make the decision that you get a better jury in Boston, which is a more diverse, heterogeneous location, than you would in the west of the state.
If the defense requests it, I think there's a good chance it would be and should be granted, because everybody in Boston was a victim.
YOUNG: Alan Dershowitz, professor of law at Harvard University, thanks so much.
DERSHOWITZ: Thank you.
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YOUNG: So most important, the victims. As you said, Jeremy, we reached out to many, and most told us they are not interested in today's hearings. Adrianne Haslet, the ballroom dancer who lost a foot and has won so many new admirers for her courage, said no, she doesn't even want to talk about it. Mary Daniel(ph) also told us today she doesn't want to talk about it, doesn't want to have anything to do with an upcoming trial. She's focusing on recovery. She lost a leg and in fact instead of going to the hearings she went to rehab today.
But Peter Brown(ph), whose two nephews, brothers, each lost limbs, is going to the courtroom. He was once in law enforcement. He told us that makes him stronger. He is going to represent first and foremost his nephews but he said also other victims who don't feel strong enough. He wants to see if the accused bomber shows any remorse, and he said he wants to send the message that the bombers did not win.
HOBSON: And we'd love to hear your thoughts on this story. We're at hereandnow.org, also Facebook.com/hereandnowradio. When we come back, we'll hear how many in the black community are watching another courtroom today, the George Zimmerman murder trial. We're back in a minute with that, HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.