His arm in a cast, his accent changed, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev pleads not guilty to Boston marathon bombing charges

First appearance since arrest for attack suspect whose brother died in shoot-out

Nikhil Kumar
Thursday 11 July 2013 13:18

He was wearing a bright orange jumpsuit, short sleeves, open at the front to show the black t-shirt covering his torso. When Dzhokhar Tsarnaev appeared in a Boston courtroom yesterday, it was the first time the world had seen the surviving suspect in the Boston marathon bombings since he was found bloody and huddled in a dry-docked boat in the suburban community of Watertown in April.

The 19 year old was escorted into Courtroom 10 of the John Joseph Moakley building before a gallery packed with no less than 30 victims and family members of those who were affected by the twin explosions that disrupted the 117th running of the Boston marathon on 15 April, killing three people and injuring more than 200. Also present were his sisters, who wept during the proceedings.

Dzhokhar and his elder brother Tamerlan, who died following a shootout with police in the early hours of 19 April, are alleged to have detonated the two bombs at around 2:49pm on the day of the marathon, when Boston was teeming with thousands of runners and spectators.

Dzhokhar was fidgety throughout the arraignment in front of Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler. The proceedings lasted around eight minutes.

Right from the beginning, he kept turning his head to catch sight of the gallery behind him. He repeatedly scratched his chin. And when he spoke to plead not guilty to an array of charges connected to the bombing - something he did only after being prompted by the judge, who intervened when one of his lawyers tried to speak for him - his English seemed heavily accented, at odds with the image of the ordinary American teenager who attended Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in nearby Cambridge. “I would ask him to answer,” Judge Bowler directed.

As the charges, which could see Dzhokhar face the death penalty, were read out, he said not guilty a total of seven times.

“He never had that accent,” said a friend from the school, declining to give his name as he spoke to reporters outside the courtroom. He had come to see Dzhokhar in court along with other friends from the suspect’s high school wrestling team. He insisted that not only had Dzhokhar’s voice changed but that his demeanour was also different to what he had known. “He didn’t fidget,” he said.

The 19 year old’s condition had visibly improved since he was caught in Watertown following an unprecedented manhunt that brought the entire Boston metropolitan area to a complete standstill. Then, he was said to be so badly wounded in the earlier shootout with police that

he was unable to talk to investigators owing to a reported throat wound.

In court, his hair was disheveled and overgrown, and he was still nursing an injury on his left arm - it was covered in plaster from the elbow down - but otherwise seemed to have recovered since April.

Along with setting off the pressure-cooker bomb that killed three people near the marathon finish line in downtown Boston, the brothers are also accused of murdering MIT police officer Sean Collier by shooting him in the head on the night of 18 April.

That was only hours before Tamerlan was killed and Dzhokhar went into hiding in Watertown. The 19 year old’s escape led to a search involving thousands of state and federal officers drawn from various agencies, including the local and state police, the National Guard, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

He was found late in the evening on 19 April when a Watertown resident who had been forced to remain indoors all day stepped out after the lockdown was lifted and noticed that the tarpaulin covering his boat had come somehow loose despite surviving the brutal Boston winter. When he walked over to fasten the covering, he noticed that a strap had been cut and was stained with blood. After looking inside the boat and seeing a pool of blood and something, or someone, curled up inside, a call to the emergency services eventually led to Dzhokhar’s capture.

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