WASHINGTON – The teenager who allegedly helped detonate two bombs at the finish line of this year’s Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring more than 260, pleaded not guilty to terrorism charges during a brief court appearance Wednesday.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, who faces 30 counts, including murder and the use of a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death, made his first public appearance since his arrest April 19.
Dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit and restrained by handcuffs as he entered and left a federal courtroom in Boston, Tsarnaev spoke with a Russian accent as he repeatedly said “not guilty” into a microphone.
The suspect, who had curly, unkempt hair and deep bags under his eyes, appeared bored during the seven-minute hearing, which was attended by dozens of victims and their families, according to wire reports. Although his parents remained in Russia, Tsarnaev’s two sisters, both wearing head scarves, were in the public gallery and he blew them a kiss as he was led away.
Prosecutors claim that Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, hid pressure cooker bombs packed with nails, ball bearings and other lethal shrapnel in backpacks close to the marathon finish line April 15. Prosecutors have not alleged that they had any connections to terrorist groups and they appear to have self-radicalized over the Internet.
Krystle Campbell, 29, Lu Lingzi, 23, and Martin Richard, 8, were killed when the two bombs exploded, and more than a dozen of the injured lost limbs. Federal prosecutors are still considering whether they will seek the death penalty.
The brothers attempted to flee after they were identified several days after the bombing. Tsarnaev is also charged with the murder of MIT police officer Sean Collier, who was fatally shot April 18 while sitting in his police car.
Parts of Boston were put into lockdown as police launched a major operation to find the pair, and authorities said that Tamerlan was run over by his younger brother as he fled a gun battle. Prosecutors said that contributed to Tamerlan’s death; he had also been shot.
Tsarnaev was later discovered hiding in a bloodstained boat in the garden of a suburban Boston home four days after the blast. According to court documents, he wrote on the walls of the boat: “The U.S. government is killing our innocent civilians. I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished.”
Tsarnaev showed signs Wednesday that he was still recovering from injuries sustained during the manhunt. His left hand was in a cast and he appeared to have a jaw injury, which meant he could only manage a crooked smile when he looked at his sisters.
Tsarnaev’s court appearance came hours after Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis III called for federal authorities, including the FBI, to share more information on terrorism threats with local police.
Addressing the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Davis said that Boston police were never told that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had traveled to Russia and said there was a “gap” in intelligence sharing.
“I think that if there is information that comes in about a terrorist threat to a particular city, the local officials should have that information,” he said.
Davis said he wasn’t suggesting that “we would have done anything different had we had the information that the FBI had prior to this,” but added that a “full and equal partnership” is needed.
The police chief cited advance planning and “unprecedented levels of coordination” between local, state and federal agencies as the reason Tsarnaev was captured within a few days of the attack.
Speaking at the same hearing, Arthur Kellermann, an expert in disaster management who works for the Rand Corp., warned that Boston had been been particularly well prepared to cope with a terrorist attack and that other U.S. cities were much less so.
He said there was “ample reason to worry,” highlighting concerns about crowding in emergency rooms in many hospitals across the United States, which he warned would hamper efforts to provide urgent medical care.