Ralph Lopez majored in Economics and Political Science at Yale University. He has been published in the Boston Globe and the Baltimore Sun.
As the death penalty appeals process in the Boston Marathon bombing case gets underway, a stark conflict has been noted in the officially admitted evidence. In 2017 Newsweek confirmed that official evidence shows that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was carrying a white backpack, the opposite color of the backpack which he allegedly planted which killed 8-year-old Martin Richard, which was black.
The contradiction supports the theory now being put forth by Boston Herald reporter Michelle McPhee. Writing for Newsweek, McPhee suggests that the brothers did not act alone, that the FBI knew them well for many years, and that other killers may still be on the loose.
In the 2018 Newsweek article "Whoever Built the Boston Marathon Bombs is Still on the Loose, Able to Kill Again," McPhee writes:
"The FBI has said repeatedly that they don't know who armed the Tsarnaev brothers for their bloody attack, but cops in the Boston area think that there's a suspect in plain sight and that the bureau and the U.S. attorney are protecting him for some reason."
Newsweek reported in 2017 that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev "can be seen carrying" a "white" backpack "in video taken before the deadly blasts." That video, which was presented as evidence on day two of the trial, shows the Tsarnaev brothers rounding the corner at Whiskey's Steakhouse. But the indictment, FBI statements, and a close-up of the backpack sitting on the sidewalk all indicate the backpack which killed Martin Richard was black, as was the backpack at the finish line allegedly planted by the older brother Tamerlan.
The backpack carried by Dzhokhar, the younger brother convicted of the crime, can be seen in the official prosecution surveillance compilation at :33 seconds (posted at Boston NPR affiliate WBUR.) The backpack which the prosecution asserted killed Richard, can be seen at the official FBI exhibits website labeled as Exhibit 29 in day two of the trial. The FBI maintained that both backpacks were black and that there were only two backpack bombs.
Although the Newsweek reporter calls the contention that the prosecution described both backpacks as black "bizarre," the indictment handed down against Tsarnaev after months of investigation states on page 3:
"The IEDs that exploded at the Marathon were constructed from pressure cookers, low explosive powder, shrapnel, adhesive, and other materials. They were concealed inside black backpacks."
In a press conference on April 16th, the day after the bombing, Special Agent Richard DesLauriers, then head of the Boston FBI and the agent in charge of the investigation, stated:
"In addition, this morning, it was determined that both of the explosives were placed in a dark-colored nylon bag or backpack. The bag would have been heavy because of the components believed to be in it."
And in an interview with ABC News, FBI agent Kevin Swindon, head of the FBI’s Computer Analysis Response Team (CART) lab, described seeing the backpack in front of The Forum for the first time, which was the one that killed Martin Richard, in a photo submitted by a spectator.
ABC News reported it was the "key" to cracking the case. ABC reported:
"The photo, closely examined, showed a black backpack on the ground in the precise place that was what analysts said was the 'seat' of the bomb -- the exact spot where it exploded, next to a tree just behind eight-year-old Martin Richard, who was killed in the blast. Standing over the backpack was a young man with a white baseball cap worn backward....That was the 'Ah-ha!' said Swindon. 'We said, That's gotta be the bomb.'"
Despite a media flurry when alleged bomb-making materials were found in the older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev's apartment in Cambridge, law enforcement officials concede that the bombs used during and after the Marathon, during the final car chase, could not have been built by the Tsarnaev brothers.
McPhee quotes Somerville Police Chief and longtime Drug Enforcement Administration official Tom Pasquarello, who said:
"The FBI clearly knew more about the Tsarnaevs than they were willing to share with local law enforcement...There are a lot of unanswered questions about that night."
A still frame of the backpack that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is seen carrying that day shows clearly that the backpack is white canvas with a small amount of black trim along the zippers, with not much weight in it as Dzhokhar carries it easily slung over one shoulder. The still frame is from surveillance video of the brothers as they round the corner at Whiskey's about ten minutes before the first explosion. The photo shown by the FBI as the one which killed 8-year-old Martin Richard shows a backpack that is larger and more fully packed, and according to the FBI itself, it is made of black nylon rather than canvas, with a small amount of white trim on top.
McPhee wrote for Newsweek:
"An FBI agent testified in Dzhokhar's trial that the bureau never located the brothers' bomb-making facility. Yet Massachusetts law enforcement officials say the investigation begun by June 9, 2013, [Sergeant Detective Gary Hayward] on the morning of June 9, 2013, uncovered what could have been such a facility in the bedroom of Daniel Morley, who had ties to Tamerlan Tsarnaev....Authorities are confident both men are where they belong, but that's a crime only half-solved, because federal prosecutors and FBI forensics experts have indicated in public statements, sworn testimony and court filings that there is 'ample reason to believe that the Tsarnaevs did not act alone, that they didn't build the bombs they detonated.'"
An FBI report noted that the devices used were far more sophisticated than those described in the online instructions found in Tamerlan's computer, "How to Build a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom."
McPhee writes for Newsweek:
"On May 21, 2014, William Weinreb, who would become the acting U.S. Attorney, was on the team of federal prosecutors that convinced a Boston jury to sentence Dzhokhar to death, filed a pretrial motion asserting that the bombs were sophisticated devices that 'would have been difficult for the Tsarnaevs to fabricate successfully without training or assistance from others.…'"
McPhee writes that soon after the bombing, Topsfield, Massachusetts, police found:
"a staggering cache of explosive materials: metallic BBs, electrical wires, batteries, cellphone parts, circuit boards—all signatures of a pressure-cooker bomb and similar to parts recovered on Boylston Street in the aftermath of the marathon bombings..."
McPhee reports that:
"The FBI showed up at Topsfield police headquarters and seized much of the evidence taken from Morley's home after Hayward executed a search warrant. Morley was never formally arraigned in connection with the charges that Hayward swore out in a criminal complaint, and those charges were abruptly dropped without explanation by the Essex County district attorney...a Topsfield police commander told Newsweek."
Six years after that horrific day filled with horrific images, discussion of the Boston Marathon bombing still rages on, and its mysteries, anomalies, and indications of official misconduct are not going away.
The Boston Marathon bombing sparked a manhunt which resulted in the first-ever trial of a city-wide "shelter in place" order, as the right of movement was suspended in a martial law scenario. Anyone seen outside could be mistaken for a suspect or accomplice and shot on sight. This was an historic turn in American history.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev had dreams of becoming an American citizen and was granted inexplicable freedom of travel to radical jihadist war zones such as Chechnya, despite being on two separate terror watchlists. In this murky world, the question may not be of guilt or innocence, but of how far the guilt extends.
Potential Points for Further Research
- Evidence that the FBI and US intelligence knew much more about the Tsarnaev brothers than they let on, even as they broadcast their photographs three days after the bombing as "Suspect White Hat" (Dzhokhar) and "Suspect Black Hat" (Tamerlan, the older brother,) and Special Agent Richard DesLauriers pleaded for the public's help in identifying them.
- Now it is known that not only had the older brother Tamerlan been interviewed by the FBI on numerous occasions before a 2012 trip to Chechnya, which was mysteriously allowed even though he was on two different terrorist watchlists, but some federal agency or agencies were actively intervening on his behalf in his quest for US citizenship. A 2017 article in Boston Magazine revealed the content of documents released since the bombing and said:
"Even though Tamerlan was legally ineligible, somehow his naturalization application had been reopened on August 28, 2012...the document suggests that someone was pulling strings to help him obtain the very thing he had been craving so desperately for years."
- The FBI suddenly reversed itself and said that there was no evidence linking the brothers to a grisly 2012 triple murder in Waltham, except the words of Tamerlan's friend Ibragim Todashev, just before he was killed by the FBI after what was said to be an attack on an agent but which resulted in three gunshot wounds to the back and one to the top of the head. Todashev's father has called the killing "an execution." Why did the FBI change its story?
- The grainy, distant video of two men approaching the car of MIT police officer Sean Collier which made identification impossible, and made the placement of Dzhokhar at the scene hinge on the words of one bicyclist speeding past who said he "made eye contact."
- The face of a man in a doorway was digitally blurred out when no one else's face was blurred out. Th man seemed to place a communication device in his ear as the brothers rounded the corner by Whiskey's Steakhouse. He has come to be known as "Agent White Shoes."
- The Lord and Taylor surveillance video directly across the street from The Forum apparently disappeared. The Forum was the second bomb site, and the video would have given an unparalleled view of the area where Dzhokar allegedly left a backpack, which anyway, again, was the wrong color. Instead, court evidence relies on the much poorer view of the bomb site taken from a camera inside The Forum, to the rear of the crowd.
- Gov. Duval Patrick, along with other officials, made an inaccurate statement that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev did not flinch or look in the direction of the first bomb as it went off. The court video compilation at minute 7:43 shows he clearly did.
- Tsarnaev made a startling appearance to his family and friends after two years in isolation, distracted, disoriented, and inattentive, as if he had been drugged. It is in this state that Tsarnaev made his confession to the court.
- There was clear intent to kill Dzhokhar in a withering fusillade of gunfire as he lay unarmed in the boat in Watertown.
- The discovery and/or release of the written confession in the boat did not take place until two months after Dzhokar's capture, and the boat was confiscated.
- The footage taken (below) in Watertown of the suspects apparently trying to surrender and yelling out to police, "We didn't do it!" and "Chill out!"