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Evidence Against Boston Bombing Suspect Is Plentiful


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. The city of Boston is getting ready to commemorate a grim anniversary. It has been one year since the bombing at the Boston Marathon. Three people died in the attack; 264 were injured, many of whom lost limbs and have spent the past year trying to navigate a new kind of life. The bombing triggered an unprecedented manhunt around the Boston area and ultimately, Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a standoff with authorities. His younger brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was arrested and charged. He is set to go on trial this fall.

Here to talk us through the investigation and the legal wrangling is NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Thanks for being with us, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: You're welcome, Rachel.

MARTIN: So Tsarnaev has been charged in a 30-count indictment with using a weapon of mass destruction. Other charges, also, that carry the death penalty. How solid is the case against him?

JOHNSON: Authorities have given us a peek of their evidence. And there appears to be a lot it, at this point, Rachel. There are images of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev putting a backpack along the finish line of the marathon nearby 8-year-old Martin Richard, a young boy who later died in the bombing.

The U.S. attorney in Massachusetts, Carmen Ortiz, says she has evidence Dzhokhar went to a firing range a month before the bombing to take target practice, and that he downloaded al-Qaeda propaganda. Finally, prosecutors are sure to introduce at trial a message Dzhokhar allegedly scratched inside the boat where he was captured after that manhunt, in which he excoriated the U.S. for killing innocent Muslims overseas.

MARTIN: But Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty. What do we know about how he's going to defend himself?

JOHNSON: His defense lawyers are quiet, at this point, but based on the court filings they've put in the case to date, it seems as if they're going to point the finger at Dzhokhar's older brother, Tamerlan, who died in that firefight last year with police in Watertown, Mass. You know, they're setting up a strategy to portray Tamerlan as the dominant figure in the family and the mastermind of these attacks, who sort of sucked his younger brother along into this jihad.

And they're going to try to use psychological records and files in the U.S. government possession, to try to make that case. Even if Dzhokhar is ultimately convicted by a jury, this kind of argument - pointing the finger at his older brother - could help spare him the death penalty.

MARTIN: Carrie, just the other day, as you know, federal watchdogs released a report about how the FBI, CIA and Homeland Security handled this whole case before and after the Boston bombings. What's the takeaway from that report?

JOHNSON: So, the inspectors general for the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security and the CIA say those agencies mostly did a descent job of sharing information and following the rules, but they faulted the FBI somewhat for not paying more attention to travel that Tamerlan Tsarnaev did to Russia before the bombings. The inspectors general say we'll never know exactly what Tamerlan's wife and ex-girlfriend might have told the FBI, if the FBI had interviewed them before the bombings. The main recommendation of these watchdogs is that the feds need to do a lot better job of sharing information with state and local police, which the FBI says it's now working to do.

MARTIN: What about sharing information with other alleged allies? The U.S. investigators also had something to say about cooperation between the U.S. and Russia, right?

JOHNSON: Absolutely, Rachel. The inspectors general faulted an FBI official in Russia for not coordinating with the CIA, with regard to Tamerlan's travel there. But they also faulted Russia for not responding to a U.S request for more information on Tamerlan. Russia only responded, they said, when it was too late.

MARTIN: NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Thanks so much for talking with us, Carrie.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.