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Tsarnaev denies bombing charges in court

He pleads not guilty to 30 counts in the Boston Marathon attack as Congress scrutinizes FBI's role.

July 11, 2013|Richard A. Serrano
  • Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is depicted during his arraignment in federal court in Boston. He pleaded not guilty to 30 charges in the Boston Marathon bombings, 17 of which could result in the death penalty or life in prison.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is depicted during his arraignment in federal court… (Margaret Small / Associated…)

WASHINGTON — Dzhokhar Tsarnaev leaned over a microphone and in a Russian accent repeated "not guilty" again and again to potential capital murder charges Wednesday in a courtroom packed with victims getting their first look at the man accused in the Boston Marathon bombings.

His left arm in a cast, his jaw apparently bruised, his eye swollen, Tsarnaev flashed a wry smile at his two sisters in Islamic dress, then blew them a kiss as he was led away after the arraignment, according to media reports. One of the sisters was holding a baby. The other was crying.

The 19-year-old Chechen immigrant and naturalized U.S. citizen faces 30 federal charges -- 17 of which could bring a death sentence or life in prison -- including detonating a weapon of mass destruction resulting in deaths. Other charges include bombing a public place and malicious destruction of property stemming from the April 15 bombings that killed three people and injured more than 260.

Authorities stepped up security for Tsarnaev's first public court appearance. He was driven to and from the courthouse in a white van escorted by a three-vehicle motorcade with heavily armed police. Outside, a small group of Tsarnaev supporters chanted "Justice for Dzhokhar" and jockeyed on the sidewalk with victims and others still visibly angry over the bombings.

His arraignment came as separate Senate and House panel hearings were held in Washington on "lessons learned" from the bombings. Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis renewed criticism that the FBI should have shared information about a trip to Russia by Tsarnaev's older brother, Tamerlan, and his connection to the Chechen separatist region.

Tamerlan, 26, who was killed during a police pursuit, designed the two pressure cooker bombs that the brothers detonated near the marathon finish line, court documents allege.

"There should be a full and equal partnership," Davis told the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, ratcheting up his earlier frustrations that the FBI withheld information about Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his Russia trip from local police.

At the House Homeland Security Committee session, Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) complained that the FBI had refused to participate in the hearing, even turning down an offer to meet with committee members in a closed meeting. "What concerns me greatly is that the problem at the heart of preventing the Boston bombings -- the failure to share information -- is being witnessed now in this very room," McCaul said.

But Paul Bresson, a top FBI spokesman in Washington, defended the bureau, saying it had briefed the House committee "on several occasions" and advised McCaul on July 3 that it could not participate in the hearing because the bombing case remains "an ongoing investigation and a pending prosecution."

"We have an obligation to protect the integrity of the judicial process while it is ongoing," Bresson said.

Boston FBI officials have said local police on the Joint Terrorism Task Force had computer access to any leads and investigations worked by law enforcement agencies, and could have learned about the FBI's investigation of Tamerlan Tsarnaev on behalf of the Russian government.

But Davis saw it differently, saying his officers were kept in the dark. "We have four officers who are assigned" to the task force, he said. "There's one in each terrorism squad. But we were not aware of the information on Tsarnaev and his travel overseas.

"I'm not saying that we would have done anything different had we had the information that the FBI had prior to this," Davis said. "But I am saying that there should be a full and equal partnership where everyone is sharing equally."

The Boston police commissioner said his officers and detectives were in jeopardy because they did not know in advance that Tamerlan had been the target of an investigation by the FBI and Russian law enforcement over his suspected ties to violent groups in Chechnya.

"When my officer stops Tsarnaev or someone like him," Davis said, "we're blind as to the prior information, and that puts my officers at risk. So I feel very, very strongly about this."

The Tsarnaev brothers shot at police and threw pressure cooker bombs at officers trying to arrest them several nights after the bombings, officials say. Tamerlan was killed in the gun battle, and Dzhokhar was arrested hours later when police used gunfire to force him out of a dry-docked boat.

Davis also said he was uncomfortable that federal law enforcement officials read Dzhokhar his Miranda right against self-incrimination before he was charged days later. He indicated that it might have been better to try to keep the only living Tsarnaev brother talking.

"We did have an evolving threat for a period of time after those bombs were thrown," he said, "and I can see that there can be unfolding situations where it might not be appropriate."

At the House hearing, McCaul said that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's magazine Inspire is praising the Tsarnaev brothers and using the Boston bombings to recruit new members.

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richard.serrano@latimes.com

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