BOSTON – The surviving Boston Marathon bombings suspect was charged Monday with “conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction” and could face the death penalty in the terrorist attack that killed three and injured 176.
The federal complaint against 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev provided new details about the case, as a federal law enforcement source with knowledge of the investigation said the surviving brother told investigators that he and his brother – both Muslim – were motivated to carry out the attacks, at least in part, by religious beliefs.
The source said that, so far, investigators have no evidence suggesting they had connections to Islamic terrorist groups and that the younger Tsarnaev has told investigators his brother hatched the plot.
The complaint says that Tsarnaev calmly dropped a backpack at his feet at one of the bomb sites and talked on a cellphone seconds before the first explosion rocked Boylston Street at the finish line.
“Virtually every head turns to the east (toward the finish line) and stares in that direction in apparent bewilderment and alarm,” the complaint said. But not Dzhokhar, who “appears calm” and walks away without his backpack.
A proceeding at Tsarnaev’s bedside Monday began when U.S. Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler instructed a doctor at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, “You can rouse him.” Tsarnaev, seriously wounded and in and out of consciousness, nodded when a doctor, identified only by his last name, Odom, asked him: “How are you feeling? Are you able to answer some questions?”
Federal public defender William Fick, representing Tsarnaev, told Bowler that he had spoken to the suspect, but “very briefly.” Tsarnaev was read his Miranda rights and asked whether he understood. He nodded.
Tsarnaev spoke only once, saying “no” when asked whether he could afford an attorney.
Bowler informed Tsarnaev of the charges against him: use of a weapon of mass destruction and malicious destruction of property resulting in death.
Federal prosecutor William Weinreb said the maximum penalty on each count is death or imprisonment for life. Prosecutors asked that Tsarnaev be detained pending trial. Federal prosecutors have 30 days to obtain an indictment. A probable cause hearing is set for May 30.
The filing of the federal charges ended the possibility that Tsarnaev, a naturalized citizen, might be tried as an enemy combatant outside the federal court system.
“Under U.S. law, United States citizens cannot be tried in military commissions,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. “And it is important to remember that since 9/11, we have used the federal court system to convict and incarcerate hundreds of terrorists.”
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a college sophomore, is accused, along with his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, of detonating two powerful bombs made of pressure cookers packed with BBs and nails April 15. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed Friday morning after a shootout with police in Watertown, Mass. Just before the shootout, the brothers are believed to have killed an MIT campus police officer.
A federal source with knowledge of the case said interrogators specializing in high-value terrorist suspects have been visiting Tsarnaev’s hospital room about every two hours to question him, but can only do so in the presence of a lawyer. The source said Tsarnaev told investigators the brothers learned how to make pressure cooker bombs online.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev escaped the gun battle, prompting a huge manhunt that locked down the Boston metro area. He was found Friday evening hiding in a boat in a Watertown backyard, with wounds to the neck, leg and hand. The neck wound may have been self-inflicted, authorities said.
At 2:50 p.m. Monday, a moment of silence in Boston marked the one-week anniversary of the tragedy. People crowded a temporary memorial near the race’s finish line at Boylston and Berkeley streets.
“God bless the people of Massachusetts,” Gov. Deval Patrick said at a ceremony outside the Statehouse. “Boston Strong.”
The governor and Roman Catholic Cardinal Sean O’Malley were among the mourners at St. Joseph Church at the first funeral for one of the victims, Krystle Campbell. The 29-year-old restaurant manager had gone to watch a friend finish the race.
“She was always there for people. As long as Krystle was around, you were OK,” said Marishi Charles, who attended the Mass. “These were the words her family wanted you to remember.”
At a memorial service for Lu Lingzi, a 23-year-old graduate student at Boston University, friends and family vowed not to forget the light in their lives that was extinguished too soon.
“You need us to be strong and brave,” Jing Li said of her roommate, killed as she watched the marathon a week ago. “We will keep running to finish the race for you and we will try to realize your unfinished dream.”
Patrick also attended that service.
As the city reflected on the bombings, law enforcement officials moved ahead with the investigation.
The complaint filed Monday said that the brothers carjacked an unidentified driver in Cambridge just before midnight Thursday. The driver has told authorities that he was sitting in his Mercedes SUV when a man approached and tapped on his passenger side window. When he rolled down the window, the man reached in, opened his door and got in.
The man pointed a firearm at the victim and said: “Did you hear about the Boston explosion? I did that.” The gunman showed the driver the bullets in his gun, saying, “I’m serious.”
He forced the victim to drive to another location and pick up the second suspect. The two placed something in the trunk, took the victim’s keys and started driving.
The pair demanded money and the victim gave them $45 before agreeing to drive them to several ATMs where they withdrew $800 from his account. The carjack victim escaped at a Cambridge gas station.
The complaint said that investigators found in Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s dorm room at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth “a large pyrotechnic, a black jacket and a white hat” similar to the one he was believed to have been wearing during the Boston bombings.
A report from the Cambridge Police Department detailing the carjacking of the Mercedes SUV said the victim told authorities that two men told him they “would not kill him because he wasn’t American.”
The charges do not mention the Friday morning slaying of Massachusetts Institute of Technology police Officer Sean Collier. His killing is being investigated by Massachusetts State Police, Cambridge Police and the Middlesex County District Attorney’s office, officials said.
Also under scrutiny is the six-month 2012 trip to Russia taken by the older brother. The source said the FBI was initially unaware that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had flown to Russia last year because his name was misspelled.
The source said that had the misspelling not occurred, the FBI “certainly would have had that information more quickly” and perhaps would have scrutinized the brother more closely after its initial check on him in 2011 at the Russian government’s suggestion.