Victims of the Boston Marathon bombings got little satisfaction from suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s first public appearance in court. His arm in a cast and his face swollen, Tsarnaev pleaded not guilty on Wednesday during a seven-minute arraignment in federal court in Boston.
His only words: “Not guilty,” spoken over and over in a Russian accent as the charges were read.
As survivors of the bombing looked on, Tsarnaev, 19, gave a small, lopsided smile to his two sisters upon arriving in the courtroom. He appeared to have a jaw injury and there was swelling around his left eye and cheek.
Leaning into the microphone, he told a federal judge: “Not guilty,” and said it over and over as the charges were read. Then he was led away in handcuffs, making a kissing gesture toward his family with his lips. One of his sisters sobbed loudly, resting her head on a woman seated next to her.
Tsarnaev, who has been hospitalized since his capture with wounds suffered in a shootout and getaway attempt, faces 30 federal charges, including using a weapon of mass destruction to kill, in connection with the April 15 attack that left three people dead and more than 260 wounded. He could get the death penalty if prosecutors choose to pursue it.
The proceedings took place in a heavily guarded courtroom packed not only with victims, but with their families, police officers and members of the public.
The Russian immigrant and former college student looked much as he did in a photo widely circulated after his arrest, his hair curly and unkempt. Wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, he appeared nonchalant, almost bored, during the hearing. The cast covered his left forearm, hand and fingers.
The bombing victims showed little reaction in the courtroom after a federal marshal warned them against any outbursts.
Liz Norden, the mother of two men who lost their right legs in the bombings, said afterward: “I actually felt sick to my stomach.”
Massachusetts Institute of Technology police boss John DiFava, who was also in the courtroom, said Tsarnaev looked “smug.”
“I didn’t see a lot of remorse. I didn’t see a lot of regret,” he said. “It just seemed to me that if I was in that position, I would have been a lot more nervous, certainly scared.”
“I just wanted to see him. I wanted to see the person that so coldly and callously killed four people, one of whom being an officer of mine,” DiFava added.
Authorities say Tsarnaev orchestrated the bombing along with his elder brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who died following a gun battle with police three days after the attack. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was arrested on April 19, hiding in a bloodstained boat in a suburban backyard after a manhunt that paralyzed much of the Boston area.
Tsarnaev is also charged in the killing of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer and the carjacking of a motorist during their getaway attempt.
On the same day as the arraignment, Boston’s police commissioner appeared in US Congress and complained to a Senate panel that the US Department of Justice failed to share information on terrorism threats with local officials before the bombing.
“There is a gap with information sharing at a higher level while there are still opportunities to intervene in the planning of these terrorist events,” Commissioner Edward Davis said.