New Evidence in Continuing Tsarnaev Trial
The prosecution in the United States v. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trial presented a number of interesting pieces of evidence this week, including web files from Tsarnaev’s laptop, texts between Tsarnaev and an unnamed friend, mock-ups of the pressure cooker and pipe bombs involved in the case, and a letter written by Tsarnaev, referencing his Russian family.
FBI linguist Olga LaFond was called to the witness stand Wednesday afternoon to testify about the Russian translations of web files found on Tsarnaev’s laptop. The primary document of inquiry was a “practical study guide” on the shooting of hand guns, found on a Ukrainian website.
LaFond was also questioned about the translations of Tsarnaev’s tweets. In their cross-reference, the defense focused on one tweet that was translated as “I shall die young,” with “young” being misspelled. The defense attempted to argue that, with the misspelling, the tweet could read “I shall die, not enough smoke.” LaFond strongly disagreed, saying one would never break up a word like that.
FBI Special Agent Heidi Williams was also called to the stand on Wednesday afternoon to read a number of texts between Tsarnaev and an unnamed friend. In one notable conversation from December 2012, the friend asks which school Tsarnaev wanted to transfer to in the following year. Tsarnaev responded that he wants “something manageable” at the moment, but perhaps hopes to attend an Ivy League school for his master’s degree. When pressed about what he wants to do, Tsarnaev said “I want to bring justice for my people.”
On January 28, 2012, Tsarnaev and a friend were discussing the study of Islam when the friend said “I really am down for that jihad life though,” and Tsarnaev warned him not to be “hot” over the phone.
The defense brought to light another texting conversation, where Tsarnaev and a friend discussed the increased religiousness of “Tima,” who the defense attempted to argue was the defendant’s brother, Tamerlan, although this was not pointedly proven. In the texts, “Tima” was said to be seen as a role model. Tsarnaev said his actions were “influential” and as a result, “I’ve been sober for a month.”
These influences didn’t seem to extend to Tsarnaev’s studies, however, as it was revealed Tuesday afternoon that Tsarnaev’s low grades as a sophomore at UMass Dartmouth put him at risk for losing financial aid. According to witness Mark Preble, a UMASS Dartmouth administrator, Tsarnaev wrote an appeal letter regarding his academic standing.
In the letter signed by the defendant, Tsarnaev attributed his low grades to the deaths of family in Chechnya, a Russian republic. He also referenced Chechnya’s political situation, mentioning accusations of terrorism abroad, and said that he hoped to one day help his family.
In another testimony by FBI Supervisory Special Agent Edward Knapp, mock-ups of the pressure cooker bombs and pipe bombs used by the Tsarnaev brothers were displayed to the jury. Knapp described the build of each bomb and explained the process of creating a transmitter and receiver before passing each mock-up around to members of the jury on Thursday afternoon.
Knapp works in the explosives unit at the FBI laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, where over 1300 items from the Boston bombing case were sent to be examined.
After Knapp’s testimony, the government called Dr. Jennifer Hammers, a medical examiner, to the witness stand. Hammers, who has performed over 2,000 autopsies throughout her career, worked in Massachusetts during the time of the bombing.
Hammers performed an autopsy on Krystal Marie Campbell – one of three bombing victims who died on April 15, 2013 – determining the cause of Campbell’s death to be blast injuries to the torso and lower extremities.
Hammers detailed the injuries to Campbell’s body, including cuts, severe burns, a broken femur, and a fractured foot. BB-sized pellets and shards of metal were also found in Campbell’s skin. Hammer was able to estimate that Campbell may have lived up to a minute after sustaining these injuries.
On Tuesday afternoon, the prosecution presented evidence found in the defendant’s dorm room. The white hat that Tsarnaev wore the day of the marathon was identified by witness Kimberly Franks, an FBI agent that was responsible for searching his dorm room.
Also on Tuesday afternoon, the defense cross-examined a prosecution witness in regards to fingerprints found on a box of ammunition from the Watertown shootout. The outside of the box had Dzhokhar’s fingerprints, but the inside packaging contained the fingerprints of the defendant’s deceased brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
On Wednesday afternoon, FBI Special Agent Kenneth Benton recounted his team’s efforts to find the defendant’s backpack after it was dumped by one of Tsarnaev’s friends in a New Bedford compactor.
After locating the proper landfill and waiting for poor weather to clear, two days of searching through the trash led to the discovery of Tsarnaev’s backpack. The bag contained a thumb drive, papers regarding UMass Dartmouth, and the remainders of fireworks.
Stay tuned to The Suffolk Voice for continued coverage of the Tsarnaev trial.