BOSTON — As the lone surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing lay hospitalized under heavy guard, the American Civil Liberties Union and a federal public defender raised concerns about investigators’ plan to question 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev without reading him his Miranda rights.
What Tsarnaev will say and when are unclear. He remained in serious condition Sunday and apparently in no shape for interrogation after being pulled bloodied and wounded from a tarp-covered boat in a Watertown backyard. The capture came at the end of a tense Friday that began with his 26-year-old brother, Tamerlan, dying in a gunbattle with police.
U.S. officials said an elite interrogation team would question the Massachusetts college student without reading him his Miranda rights — something that is allowed on a limited basis when the public may be in immediate danger, such as when bombs are planted and ready to go off.
ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said the legal exception applies only when there is a continued threat to public safety and is “not an open-ended exception” to the Miranda rule, which guarantees the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.
The federal public defender’s office in Massachusetts said it has agreed to represent Tsarnaev once he is charged. Miriam Conrad, public defender for Massachusetts, said he should have a lawyer appointed as soon as possible because there are “serious issues regarding possible interrogation.”
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, and his older brother, Tamerlan, 26, are believed by the FBI and state and local police to be the bombers behind the massacre at the Boston Marathon a week ago today, and behind a violent chase through Cambridge and Watertown last early last Friday morning that left one Massachusetts Institute of Technology policeman dead, an MBTA officer seriously wounded, several other officers injured.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev was shot and killed by police in when police said the brothers stopped the Mercedes they were driving and threw explosives at their pursuers. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev escaped, and was captured Friday night when a Watertown resident called police after finding that someone had tampered with his boat that had been wrapped and stored behind his house.
Police and SWAT teams nabbed the younger Tsarnaev, who had been hiding in the boat a few blocks from the Friday firefight scene; he remained under heavy guard Sunday at Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center.
The Obama administration has a range of legal options in the Boston Marathon bombings, and they could include seeking the death penalty against the 19-year-old suspect in the case.
The administration has indicated it intends to move quickly to build a criminal case against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. But investigators plan to first question him without informing him of his legal rights to remain silent and have an attorney present.
As a U.S. citizen, Tsarnaev — who was naturalized as such on Sept. 11, 2012, could not be tried by a military commission under current law; the only option for prosecuting an American is in civilian courts.
The most serious charge would be the use of a weapon of mass destruction to kill people, which carries a possible death sentence. Three people died in the twin explosions in Boston and more than 180 were injured; as of Sunday, some 50 victims of the bombings remained hospitalized, five still in critical condition.
Massachusetts does not have the death penalty, but the administration pressing under federal law could try to persuade a jury to sentence Tsarnaev to death. The state could also try to bring charges against him, including for the death of Sean Collier, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer who authorities say was killed by the Tsarnaev brothers as he sat in his cruiser late Thursday night.
“This is not a foreign national caught on an enemy battlefield, but an American citizen arrested on American soil,” said Congressman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a former federal prosecutor and member of the House Intelligence Committee. “The Justice Department has demonstrated a far greater ability to successfully prosecute suspected terrorists in federal courts than the military commissions have thus far been able to show.
“Nothing must be done to compromise the public safety, the ability of prosecutors to seek justice for the victims or our constitutional principles,” he said.
Meanwhile, Cambridge residents continued to express shocked that young men who lived in their neighborhood and went to their schools could cause such wanton violence.
But Alex Jonathan Brito, 20, remembered the younger Tsarnaev from high school as having a “weird charisma” and was sarcastic.
“He was kind of off in the way he dealt with people,” said Brito, who recalled getting into an altercation with Tsarnaev in high school over what he said was “something stupid.” He would not elaborate.
The owner of a garage near the Tsarnaevs’ apartment, Gilberto Junior, said he saw Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Tuesday when the younger suspect came into the garage to pick up a white Mercedes. Tsarnaev had dropped the Mercedes off to have minor work done on the rear end, but came to pick it up Tuesday before the work was completed.
“He came on Tuesday and said he wanted the car right now,” Junior said. “I said I need to start working on the car. I removed the bumper, I removed the tail lights from the car. He said ‘I don’t care. I don’t care. I need the car right now.’ And I noticed he was biting his nails and was very shaky. So I gave him the key and he left.”
Junior, owner of Junior’s Auto Body on Columbia Street in Somerville, said Tsarnaev brought high-end cars in often and paid in cash.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a boxer who trained at the Somerville Boxing Club, fought and won a charity fight in Lowell in 2004, and represented Team New England in the National Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions in 2009, where he lost his fight by decision.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a wrestler, whom a former assistant coach said was dedicated. The younger Tsarnaev wrestled in the 2009 and 2010 Methuen Invitational, going 1-4. He got blitzed by Methuen’s Nate Gioacchini 15-3 in first round of 2009 Methuen Invite.
Some neighbors around Inman Square, at the intersection of Cambridge and Prospect streets in northern Cambridge and a couple blocks from the Tsarnaevs’ apartment on Norfolk Street, compared the Thursday night and Friday chaos to a war zone. The shootings, chase and Watertown firefight erupted within hours after photos and video of the brothers — though not identified at that point — were released by the FBI in seeking the public’s help.
A man named Andrew, 30, who did not want to give his last name, said he has lived in Inman Square for seven years, and was in the West Bank, the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory, last summer. He could not believe what had happened to his city, and in neighboring Watertown.
“This is scarier,” he said. “There you know everyone is on alert. But here — this is your neighborhood.”