Officers Recall Night Of Battle With Boston Marathon Bombing Suspects

Mar 16, 2015
Originally published on March 16, 2015 7:01 pm
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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

At the trial of the admitted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokar Tsarnaev, today's testimony focused on the violent shootout with police days after the attack. That's when Tsarnaev and his older brother were on the run. NPR's Tovia Smith was in court, and she joins us now. And Tovia, prosecutors have already outlined the basic story of what happened. Did we learn any new details today?

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Some details, but what really came through today was the emotion and drama from police in this quiet suburb where, as one put it, they're more used to being called for things like shoplifting. One said he had never even fired his weapon in the line of duty before. But suddenly, police found themselves in this hail of gunfire with bombs being thrown at them.

One blast was so strong, a sergeant said, his eyes were shaking violently in his head. At one point, another sergeant and the older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, were firing at each other from just six feet apart. Then Tamerlan apparently has trouble with his gun, throws it at the sergeant and runs. Eventually, he is tackled by police, who were about to finally cuff him when Dzhokar comes charging at them in the SUV.

And then this really dramatic moment and really dramatic retelling of it because the sergeant was asked to come off the witness stand and demonstrate just a few feet in front of the defendant how he tried to pull Tamerlan out of harm's way and how the sergeant just barely cleared SUV himself. So ultimately, Dzhokar ends up running over his older brother Tamerlan and dragging him a ways before Tamerlan dislodges and police finally get him. And through it all, the defendant, Dzhokar, in court looked straight ahead at the sergeant. He didn't look away as he often does, but no visible emotion at all.

BLOCK: And that was how Dzhokar Tsarnaev, the younger brother, managed to make his escape in that SUV.

SMITH: Right, he keeps driving. As one officer put it, he was just gone because really, at that point, police are focused on taking Tamerlan and on saving the life of an officer who was shot and nearly died.

BLOCK: Tovia, you've been reporting that defense attorneys haven't had a whole lot to say in this trial since they've admitted their client's guilt. Did they challenge anything today?

SMITH: Just a few questions, mostly challenging whether police saw two guns shooting or just one or which brother actually threw the bombs. This is all part of their now very familiar strategy to cast Dzhokar as the minor partner in the attack and his brother as the real mastermind. And they're hoping that will help them if Tsarnaev is convicted during sentencing.

BLOCK: Well, earlier, jurors had seen the message that Dzhokar Tsarnaev wrote in the boat in which he was captured. Today they took a field trip. Jurors took a field trip to see the boat itself. What was that like?

SMITH: Right. This is what prosecutors are casting as basically a confession - an explanation of a motive where Tsarnaev wrote about killing Americans as retribution for Muslims killed by U.S. troops overseas.

Jurors had seen photos of it, but defense attorneys wanted them to see the note in the actual boat to see how the boat was riddled with more than 100 bullet holes and blood. Again, it's all part of this strategy to show Tsarnaev as more of an intimidated, scared teenager than a violent terrorist like his brother.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Tovia Smith reporting from Boston. Tovia, thanks.

SMITH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.