Dzhokhar Tsarnaev pleads not guilty to 30 charges over Boston bombings

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who faces 30 charges, smiles at sisters in his first court appearance

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 July, 2013, 5:30am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 July, 2013, 2:30am


Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, his arm in a cast and his face swollen, has pleaded not guilty in a seven-minute hearing that marked his first appearance in public since his capture in mid-April.

As survivors of the bombing looked on, Tsarnaev, 19, gave a small, lopsided smile to his two sisters on arriving in the court on Wednesday. He appeared to have a jaw injury and there was swelling around his left eye and cheek.

Leaning into the microphone, he told a federal judge, "Not guilty", in accented English and said it over and over as the charges were read. Then he was led away in handcuffs, making a kissing gesture towards his family with his lips. One of his sisters sobbed loudly, resting her head on a woman seated next to her.

Tsarnaev, who has been in hospital since his capture with wounds suffered in a shoot-out and getaway attempt, faces 30 federal charges, including using a weapon of mass destruction to kill, in connection with the April 15 attack that left three people dead and more than 260 wounded. He could get the death penalty if prosecutors pursue it.

The hearing took place in a heavily guarded court packed with victims and their families, police officers and members of the public and media. About a dozen Tsarnaev supporters cheered as his motorcade arrived at the courthouse. The demonstrators yelled, "Justice for Jahar!", as Tsarnaev is known.

The Russian immigrant and former college student looked much as he did in a photo widely circulated after his arrest, his hair curly and unkempt. Wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, he appeared nonchalant during the hearing. The cast covered his left forearm, hand and fingers.

The bombing victims showed little reaction after a marshal warned them against outbursts.

Liz Norden, the mother of two men who lost their right legs in the bombings, said afterwards: "I actually felt sick to my stomach."

MIT Police Chief John DiFava, who was also in the court, said Tsarnaev looked "smug".

"I didn't see a lot of remorse. I didn't see a lot of regret," he said. "It just seemed to me that if I was in that position, I would have been a lot more nervous, certainly scared … I wanted to see the person that so coldly and callously killed four people, one of whom being an officer of mine."

Officials said Tsarnaev organised the bombings with his older brother, Tamerlan, who died in a gun battle with police three days after the attack. Dzhokhar was arrested on April 19, hiding in a boat in a backyard after a hunt that paralysed much of Boston.

Tsarnaev is also charged in the killing of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer and the carjacking of a motorist during their getaway attempt.

His two sisters were in court wearing hijabs. One was carrying a baby; the other wiped away tears with a tissue. Tsarnaev's parents remain in Russia.

On the same day as the arraignment, Boston's police commissioner appeared in Congress and complained to a Senate panel that the Justice Department failed to share information on terrorism threats with local officials before the bombing.

"There is a gap with information-sharing at a higher level while there are still opportunities to intervene in the planning of these terrorist events," Commissioner Edward Davis said.