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Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev charged as civilian, will be tried in federal court (updated)

Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev charged as civilian, will be tried in federal court (updated)

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Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 19-year-old suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings (pictured above, at left), has been charged as a civilian, not an enemy combatant, and will face trial in federal court, according to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. The charges were announced moments ago during the White House's daily press briefing, as the Metrodesk reported. The US Attorney for the District of Massachusetts just tweeted the specific charges as "conspiring to use weapon of mass destruction against persons and property in U.S. resulting in death."

The charges were read to Tsarnaev in his hospital bed at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, according to Reuters. Tsarneav remains in serious condition, as per the latest update from the FBI following his confrontation with police in the Boston suburb of Watertown, Massachusetts late Friday before his capture.

The charges were read to Tsarnaev in his hospital bed

The US Justice Department described the charges in more detail on its website, spelling out two counts and noting that Tsarnaev faces a maximum penalty of multiple life sentences in prison, or death if convicted under the federal statutes. Massachusetts state law does not provide for the death penalty, but a federal conviction would. As the Justice Department noted:

Tsarnaev is specifically charged with one count of using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction (namely, an improvised explosive device or IED) against persons and property within the United States resulting in death, and one count of malicious destruction of property by means of an explosive device resulting in death. The statutory charges authorize a penalty, upon conviction, of death or imprisonment for life or any term of years.

In court documents unsealed today, the FBI describes in even more detail the timeline of the attacks, the immediate aftermath, and their pursuit of Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, 26, who died Friday morning from injuries sustained during a clash with police. The FBI states that security camera footage from the Boston Marathon indicates the Tsarnaev brothers arrived at the Boston Marathon together before spitting up to set the bombs, detonating them, and then departed separately. Here are some of the key details revealed in the FBI's testimony:

Unsealed court documents reveal key details collected by the FBI

  • The suspect matching the description of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev left his backpack, allegedly containing the explosives, on the ground just four minutes before the first bomb went off at 2:49 PM EST, then appears to be "manipulating his phone" and "approximately 30 seconds before the first explosion ... lifts his phone to his ear as if he is speaking on his cell phone, and keeps it there for approximately 18 seconds."
  • After the first explosion, Tsarnaev "virtually alone among the individuals in front of the [Forum] restaurant, appears calm." The Forum was the site of the second explosion.
  • The remains of the explosives were analyzed and described as follows:

"A preliminary examination of the remains of the explosive devices that were used at the Boston Marathon revealed that they were low-grade explosives that were housed in pressure cookers. Both pressure cookers were of the same brand. The pressure cookers also contained metallic BBs and nails. Many of the BBs were contained within an adhesive material. The explosives contained green-colored hobby fuse."

  • Regarding the suspects' alleged carjacking around midnight on Thursday, April 18th, the carjacker — alleged to be one of the Tsarnaev brothers, namely Tamerlan — approached the car and tapped on the window. When the driver rolled it down, he reached his arm in, opened the door and entered the car holding a gun. The FBI quotes the carjacking suspect as telling the driver: "Did you hear about the Boston explosion? I did that," then adds this description of what happened:

"The man [carjacking suspect] removed the magazine from his gun and showed the victim [driver] that it had a bullet in it, and then re-inserted the magazine. The man then stated, 'I am serious.'"

  • After that, the report states that the carjacking suspect forced the driver over to another location to pick up another man, alleged to be Dzhokhar, before both men put something in the trunk of the car. The two men later forced the car driver to hand over his ATM card. The two men briefly exited the car in an attempt to withdraw money from an ATM in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when the car's original driver escaped by fleeing on foot.
  • The FBI affidavit goes on to state that the stolen car was identified by police in Watertown, Massachusetts. When they tried to pull it over, they reported the following:
  • "Did you hear about the Boston explosion? I did that"

"As the men drove down Dexter Street in Watertown, they threw at least two small improvised explosive devices ("IEDs") out of the car. A gun fight ensued between the car's occupants and law enforcement officers in which numerous shots were fired. One of the men was severely injured and remained at the scene; the other managed to escape in the car. That car was later found abandoned a short distance away, and an intact low-grade explosive device was discovered inside it. In addition, from the scene of the shootout on Laurel Street in Watertown, the FBI has recovered two unexploded IEDs, as well as the remnants of numerous exploded IEDs."

  • The IEDs thrown out of the car are reported to have "similarities" to the explosives used in the bombings at the Boston Marathon and "at least one of the exploded IEDs at the scene of the shootout indicate that a low-grade explosive had been contained in a pressure cooker."
  • The FBI searched Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's dorm at Dartmouth yesterday and "seized from his room, among other things, a large pyrotechnic, a black jacket and a white hat of the same general appearance as those worn by 'Bomber Two' at the Boston Marathon on April 15th, 2013, and BBs."
  • Tsarnaev's injuries at the time of his arrest were "apparent gunshot wounds to the head, neck, legs, and hand."

It's still unclear when — or if — the government plans to read Tsarnaev his Miranda rights, which are generally required for evidence gathered during questioning to be used in court. While American citizens always retain their familiar Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights (to remain silent and have an attorney present regardless of circumstance), prosecutors generally aren't allowed to use any statements made in custody before the Miranda warning is read.

Tsarnaev, however, has been held in custody and questioned without being Mirandized, reportedly answering questions in writing because his injuries prevent him from speaking and raising questions about how and when the government might use any information gathered against him at trial. The Obama administration has held since at least 2011 that the so-called "public safety" exception to the Miranda rules can be expanded to cover questioning terrorists, and the White House's Jay Carney reiterated that stance today, saying that "it is a fact" that the public safety exception allows for extended interrogation without a Miranda warning.

Update: The full transcript of Tsarnaev's first hearing has been posted by The New York Times. In the transcript, we see that Tsarnaev was read his Miranda rights. By agreement of all the lawyers involved in the case, the next court date appears to be set for May 30th.

Nilay Patel and Sean Hollister contributed to this report.