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Accused Boston bomber: an American dream gone awry

08 january 2015, 13:13
0
Accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (R) is shown in a courtroom sketch on the first day of jury selection at the federal courthouse. ©Reuters
Accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (R) is shown in a courtroom sketch on the first day of jury selection at the federal courthouse. ©Reuters

 Pale and nervous in facing potential jurors in court this week, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is the 21-year-old American of Chechen descent who faces the death penalty if convicted of the Boston marathon bombings, AFP reports.

The man who called himself Jahar lived the outward life of a well-adjusted university student. He liked to party, he narrated his exploits on Twitter and occasionally smoked marijuana.

There was no public expression of Muslim extremism, no cause for alarm. He became a naturalized US citizen a year before the April 15, 2013 attacks and was studying at the University of Massachusetts.

But in a tale of the American dream gone seriously wrong, the boy who emigrated with his family from Kyrgyzstan in 2002 is accused of carrying out the worst attacks on US soil since 9/11.

Two bombs planted in backpacks at the finish line of the Boston marathon killed three people and wounded more than 260, plunging the northeastern city into mourning.

He has been charged with 30 crimes, but pleads not guilty.

US authorities say Tsarnaev and his older brother Tamerlan, who was shot dead by police on the run, built the bombs using instructions from an online Al-Qaeda magazine in English.

When Tsarnaev was arrested four days later, seriously wounded, his photograph -- of a 19-year-old with unruly, shaggy hair -- went all over the world.

Today the dark hair is the same, but his face has grown gaunt. Flanked by his five lawyers, he has sat in the jury room listening to the selection process, stroking his small beard repeatedly.

Each morning and each afternoon, he entered with his five lawyers, looking frail in a shirt, pullover and pants.

He has sat between two women lawyers, to the right of the judge, rarely talking to his attorneys and not publicly uttering a word.

He listened in stony silence as Judge George O'Toole delivered the same set of instructions to each group of 200 to 250 potential jurors.

He sat motionless when the judge explained that he could be sentenced to death if found guilty over marathon attacks and the killing of a police officer three days later.

    'Stress-free guy' 

 Tsarnaev has not been handcuffed, nor his feet shackled. When the judge asks him to stand up to show himself to the jurors, he does so mechanically and quickly sits back down.

On the first day, he seemed unwilling to look prospective jurors in the face, keeping his eyes fixed on the ground or the judge.

In subsequent court sessions, he seemed more assured, but frequently touched his hair, knotted his hands or tilted his head. He flicked his eyes from floor, to judge, then back to his feet.

Since his arrest, he has been held in near isolation at Fort Devens prison hospital 70 kilometers (40 miles) from Boston.

All visits are monitored and only his lawyers and sisters are permitted to see him. No physical contact is allowed.

His father, who comes from Chechnya, and his mother from Dagestan left the United States to return to Russia before the attacks and have apparently never come to visit.

Phone calls are limited to immediate family and monitored by the FBI. He is allowed to write one letter a week to his family.

As a student living freely at the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth, south of Boston, he was by all accounts well integrated, loving his cat and driving his own car.

Only a message inside the boat where Tsarnaev was arrested offers a glimpse into the possible motive behind the crime: "The US government is killing our innocent civilians... We Muslims are one body... Stop killing our innocent people and we will stop," it read.

The first stage of jury selection ended Wednesday and will resume at the end of next week. If the process is finalized on schedule, opening arguments are scheduled to begin around January 26.

The trial is due to last three to four months.

The jurors will decide if Tsarnaev -- who two days after the attacks in a last tweet wrote: "I am a stress free kind of guy" -- is guilty, then decide whether to sentence him to life imprisonment or condemn him to death.


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