(Updated, 5:21 p.m.)
BOSTON - Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, accused of killing three Boston Marathon spectators and injuring 260 others in the first deadly terrorist bombing in the U.S. since Sept. 11, 2001, pleaded not guilty to murder charges.
Tsarnaev, 19, made his first court appearance today since he was found hiding in a boat in a suburban Boston backyard four days after the April 15 bombing and a day after he allegedly shot a police officer to death. He entered his not-guilty plea in a hearing that lasted less than 10 minutes in a packed courtroom. He may face the death penalty for using a weapon of mass destruction.
Before Tsarnaev was escorted from the courtroom by authorities after the hearing, he turned and made a kissing motion toward his two sisters, both wearing head scarves. One held a baby and the other one wept as she left the courtroom.
About half of the 110 seats in the courtroom were reserved for victims and their families and a separate overflow room was set aside for them, where the hearing was watched on closed-circuit television. Ten police officers conducted a security sweep of the courtroom six hours before the start of the hearing. The murder trial of reputed crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger is taking place in an adjacent courtroom.
Tsarnaev, who wore an orange prison-issued jumpsuit and was handcuffed behind his back when he entered and left the courtroom, appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler, who set a Sept. 23 status hearing. Prosecutors said 80 to 100 witnesses would be called for a trial expected to last three months.
The arraignment - Tsarnaev’s first public appearance in a courtroom - came about two weeks after a U.S. grand jury that heard detailed evidence from investigators in secret returned a 30-count indictment against the Russian immigrant.
Tsarnaev killed two women and an 8-year-old boy and injured 260 people April 15 with bombs left in crowds near the marathon’s finish line, prosecutors said. He was inspired by al Qaeda and motivated by the U.S. military’s killing of Muslim civilians, the government said.
Tsarnaev is also charged in the 74-page indictment with the death of Sean Collier, a police officer for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.
Collier’s shooting at point-blank range on the evening of April 18 set off an overnight manhunt that led to Tsarnaev’s capture and the death of his brother Tamerlan, 26, who is suspected of carrying out the bombing with him.
Lacey Buckley, 23, was among a half dozen supporters of Tsarnaev outside the courtroom who waited for a seat hours before the start of the hearing. The resident of Wenatchee, Washington, who said she traveled alone to Boston for the hearing, said she hasn’t seen enough evidence to believe Tsarnaev is the bomber.
“They almost murdered a kid who was unarmed,” said Buckley, who runs a website supporting Tsarnaev. She wore a black T-shirt with the words “Free the Lion, July 10.” Tsarnaev used a photo of a lion on his Twitter account.
Duke LaTouf, 33, said he traveled from Las Vegas to attend the hearing because he believes Tsarnaev was framed. He said he believes the government carried out the bombing as a test run for eventually seizing all the guns in the country.
Kim Napoli of Boston, whose daughters, ages 1 and 3, were near the bomb sites the day of the attack, also waited at the courtroom entrance for a seat. Her children were uninjured but continue to suffer from nightmares, she said.
“She was robbed of her innocence that day,” Napoli said of her elder daughter. “She knows things can go wrong. She thinks a marathon is people running away.”
“They seem young,” Napoli said of Tsarnaev’s supporters. “They seem obsessed, like people who need something to do. Some young girls like the bad boy.”
Ten police officers conducted a security sweep of the courtroom six hours before the start of the hearing.
Tsarnaev killed two women and an 8-year-old boy and injured 260 people April 15 with bombs left in crowds near the marathon’s finish line, prosecutors said. He was inspired by al- Qaeda and motivated by the U.S. military’s killing of Muslim civilians, the government said.
Tsarnaev is also charged in the 74-page indictment with the death of Collier, a police officer for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.