Surviving Boston bombing suspect Dzokhar Tsarnaev faces death penalty over weapon of mass destruction charge

Charges brought in hospital but suspect will not be treated as an enemy combatant

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings, faces a possible death sentence after being charged with using a weapon of mass destruction to kill three people and injure more than 200.

The 19-year-old, who remains in a serious condition at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre since being captured in the suburban community of Watertown on Friday night, was charged as he lay in his bed. A magistrate judge was present at the time. 

The other suspect, Dzhokhar’s 26-year-old brother Tamerlan, was killed following a police chase in the early hours of Friday morning.

The younger Tsarnaev has been charged with one count of using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction against persons and property – a reference to the pressure-cooker bombs allegedly deployed at the marathon last week – and one count of malicious destruction of property by means of an explosive device resulting in death, the US Attorney General, Eric Holder, said.

“Although our investigation is ongoing, today’s charges bring a successful end to a tragic week for the city of Boston, and for our country,” said Mr Holder. Officials did not comment on what communication they’d had with the suspect since he was apprehended, although reports have suggested he has answered his interrogators’ questions in writing. He reportedly remains unable to talk after being found with gunshot wounds to his head, neck, legs and hand.

Earlier, interrogators were said to have invoked a public safety exception in order to question Tsarnaev without first informing him of his right to remain silent or to have a lawyer present. Announcing the charges, Carmen Ortiz, the Massachusetts District Attorney, said that “while we not be able to comment on any possible communications between the suspect at this time, as a general rule, the government will always seek to elicit all the actionable intelligence and information we can from terrorist suspects taken into our custody.”

The charges did, however, provide a conclusive answer to another legal question that surfaced over the weekend, namely whether Dzhokhar would be tried within the bounds of the US criminal justice system or whether the government would classify him as an “ enemy combatant," thus denying him some of the rights available in the civilian courts.

“We will prosecute this terrorist through our civilian system of justice,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney just before the charges were made public.

Over the weekend, Anzor Tsarnaev, the father of the two suspects, said he would fly from Dagestan to the US this week to seek "justice and truth." His wife told the Associated Press that he would fly to Boston tomorrow and that the family wished to take the elder Tsarnaev’s body home  to be buried. Tamerlan visited Dagestan early last year, reportedly evading the attention of the FBI, which had previously questioned him but failed to spot his trip due to a spelling mistake in his name, according to Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. The US authorities are now said to be waiting to speak to Tamerlan’s US-born wife, Katherine Russell.

Based on video and photographic evidence collected by the authorities, the criminal complaint recounts how Dzhokhar had allegedly planted the second of the two pressure-cooker bombs that went off last Monday. He is said to have arrived at the site of the second bomb, directly in front of the Forum Restaurant near the Marathon finish line in downtown Boston, and positioned himself “ near the metal barrier among numerous spectators, with his back to the camera, facing the runners. He then can be seen apparently slipping his knapsack on to the ground.”

“Bomber Two [as Dzhokhar is referred to in the complaint] remained in the same spot for approximately four minutes, occasionally looking at his cell phone and once appearing to take a picture with it. Approximately 30 seconds before the first explosion, he lifts his phone to his ear as if he is speaking, and keeps it there for approximately 18 seconds. A few seconds after he finishes the call, the large crowd of people around him can be seen reacting to the first explosion. Bomber Two, virtually alone among the individuals in front of the restaurant, appears calm,” it reads. The suspect is then said to have walked away without his knapsack. “Approximately 10 seconds later, an explosion occurs in the location where Bomber Two had placed his knapsack.”

It also describes how, near midnight on Thursday, a driver heard a tap on his window as he was sitting in his car in Cambridge, Massachusetts. After rolling the window down a man reached in, got into the car with a gun and said: “Did you hear about the Boston explosion?" and "I did that.” He was then forced to drive and pick up a second man. The man with the gun then demanded cash from the victim. One of the men then demanded his ATM card and attempted to withdraw money from the victim's account. The victim escaped when the two men got out of the car at a gas station.

The criminal complaint against Tsarnaev was filed on the same day that 29-year-old Krystle Campbell, one of the three marathon fatalities, was buried in the first funeral since the attack. Boston residents  later marked a minute’s silence at 2.50pm yesterday, around the time the first explosion ripped through the marathon crowd a week ago.