More secrets, arresting images at Boston bombing trial

Story highlights

  • Transcript reveals behind-the-scenes legal drama
  • Jury sees shocking photo of Tamerlan Tsarnaev in jihad pose
  • Defense shifts focus to dead older brother in penalty phase

Boston (CNN)In a trial full of arresting images, one that flashed across the courtroom screen on Tuesday was a stunner: Tamerlan Tsarnaev, with a full beard and wearing traditional white Muslim robes, flashed a pistol in front of what appeared to be the rallying flag of jihad.

Yet another showed him brandishing a gun with a small child in the frame. And, finally, came a photo of an unidentified small boy carrying a rifle.
It is not known when or where the photographs were taken.
    They came to light during the testimony of defense witness Mark Spencer, a digital forensics expert from Arsenal Consultants.
    Spencer said the images were recovered from an encrypted file called "Document" on Tsarnaev's Samsung laptop after his death.
    Tamerlan Tsarnaev was shot by police and run over by his brother in the aftermath the deadly bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon.
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    The defense expert delved into Tamerlan's computer files in much the same way federal prosecutors rooted through his younger brother's Sony laptop earlier in this trial.

    Tamerlan the heavy, Jahar the pawn

    Dzhokhar "Jahar" Tsarnaev was convicted of 30 counts relating to the bombings and their aftermath; 17 counts, involving the murders of three marathon spectators and an MIT police officer, carry the death penalty as a possible sentence.
    Defense attorneys are fighting to convince jurors to spare 21-year-old Jahar Tsarnaev from execution and instead sentence him to life in prison without parole. The defense strategy includes shifting the focus of the trial to Tamerlan's radical beliefs and the power he held over his younger brother. They are trying to make Tamerlan the heavy and Jahar his pawn.
    One of the witnesses, a boxing coach who knew the brothers when they were younger, spoke the words that surely were music to the defense attorneys' ears. Asked to describe Jahar, John Curran said: "I remember mentioning to somebody that he was like a puppy following his brother."
    The subject of Tamerlan has dominated the testimony. Besides the computer expert and his former boxing coach, witnesses have included his music teacher, his mother-in-law, his wife's best friend, a handful of classmates and acquaintances and his landlady's son.
    They spoke about how he pursued a career as an amateur boxer but was disappointed when his lack of U.S. citizenship stifled his progress. He went from hard-drinking, pot smoking drug dealer to clean-living, devout stay-at-home dad.
    While he once was a flashy dresser who left a plume of aftershave behind him and wore boots the color of aluminum foil, he began to walk the streets of Cambridge in the flowing robes of devout Muslims.
    All the while, the defense says, he obsessively trolled the Internet in search of the messages of violent jihad. His encrypted file included dozens of dead and maimed children, apparently from conflicts abroad.

    Accidental disclosure

    In addition to Tuesday's testimony, disclosures about the defense case and behind-the-scenes dramas involving the witnesses were accidentally disclosed in a transcript of defense attorney David Bruck's opening statement. Copies of the transcript were purchased by CNN and several other media outlets.
    The transcript inadvertently included sidebar conversations between Judge George O'Toole and the prosecution and defense teams. Those conversations usually are held in the judge's chambers, or otherwise out of earshot of the jury and the public. At times, the court plays soft jazz to prevent eavesdropping.
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    But the transcript revealed the following:
    One friend of Tamerlan's is missing and neither the defense nor the prosecution can find him. Another friend refuses to testify and planned to invoke his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination if he was forced to take the witness stand.
    Reports of FBI interviews with the two men -- the missing Magomed Dalokov and reluctant Viskian Vakhabov -- were read into the court record on Tuesday. Dalokov went to a gym and boxed with the brothers on the Friday night before the bombings. Vakhabov told the FBI that Tamerlan Tsarnaev spoke often about his belief in violent jihad and believed it was "the right way to go."
    The defense had planned to introduce evidence that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was violent with his wife, Katherine Russell, but that avenue of questioning was cut off by a prosecutor's objection.
    The trial record, as it stands, is as follows:
    Katherine Russell's best friend since childhood, Gina Crawford, is on the stand. She is asked about a phone call she received from Katherine's college roommates while she was dating Tamerlan.
    "The other roommates were upset," she said. "They thought Katie was in domestic ..."
    "Objection!" Assistant U.S. Attorney William Weinreb thundered, and the lawyers quickly moved to sidebar. Strains of jazz wafted from the speakers.
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    Defense attorney Judy Clarke filled in the blanks, according to the accidentally leaked transcript:
    "I know what she'll say. She got a telephone call from one of the parents of Katherine's roommates who reported that their daughter had reported that Tamerlan was physically abusive to Katherine."
    Weinreb objected that the testimony was "hearsay on top of hearsay."
    Clarke persisted, "But the government knows as well as we know that this is corroborated by an email that one of the roommates sent to a family member about Tamerlan being abusive to Katherine, this incident, and the roommates moved out. So that's been -- I mean, it's not a hearsay sort of pulled out of the air."
    The judge upheld the government's objection and the testimony was not heard.

    A mother-in-law's suspicions

    The transcript also revealed that Judith Russell, Tamerlan's mother-in-law, had her suspicions about his involvement in the bombing, even before the FBI knew his identity. She called the FBI when she learned he was dead.
    "At some point Ms. Russell thought for a moment that it could have been Tamerlan that bombed the Boston Marathon, and the reason she thought that was because he had become intensely radical in his views of Islam and politics, and she was aware that the FBI had interviewed him at some point," Clarke explained at yet another sidebar.
    "So she had these immediate concerns, and then she pushed them out of her head because she thought how horrible could it be that she could have that thought about him, her own son-in-law."
    And, finally, the transcript revealed that five people, including Tsarnaev's relatives, have been brought to the United States from Russia to testify for the defense. The FBI has dedicated 16 agents to guard them from journalists and gawkers, which Weinreb said the agency considers "an enormous expense and distraction."
    The government intends to send the Russians back home before the weekend, he added. "I just want the record to reflect that it is still our intention that they are all going back to Russia on Friday whether they have testified or not."
    Defense attorney William Fick, however, complained that it was having trouble gaining access to the Russians, given "the condition under which their presence was permitted and the conditions under which we're able to interact with them."
    It appears the Russian relatives will testify one after another, on Thursday, according to the transcript. The defense estimates each will take the stand for 30 minutes.