Monday, August 05, 2013

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev case: Witnesses for the Prosecution?

The "epicenter question" - where exactly did the second bomb explode - is of crucial importance for the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev lawsuit and, thanks to the exact topographic description in the initial complaint, equivalent to the question whether he's guilty or not. If the epicenter was at the metal barriers near the mailbox, he's very probably guilty. If the epicenter was on the Forum's patio, he's most likely not guilty.

Beginning with this blog entry from April 23th, I've made no pretence of my conviction that the patio was the epicenter of the second bomb, based on numerous eyewitness statements and photographic evidence. I also pointed out that the "official epicenter story" began to change early, even before the hunt on the Tsarnaev brothers was heralded: the epicenter somehow "moved" from the patio to the mailbox, and most of the media played along by publishing dubious photos and graphics with the strong insinuation that the epicenter was beside the mailbox. The facebook tweet of Barbara Ray-Velazquez, sent on April 17th, concisely reflects this medial metamorphosis.

In my April blog entries I featured several witnesses whose accounts directly or indirectly imply that the second bomb exploded right on the patio. In this early stage, I didn't find any witness who distinctly confirmed the official "mailbox" story. A new search a few days ago has revealed however that there are indeed witnesses for the mailbox version, among them: Jarrod Clowery and Steve Byrne.

Jarrod Clowery (source: CNN)


                               Steve Byrne (source: ABC News)

Jarrod Clowery was heavily injured, but he escaped the fate of so many other victims who lost their limbs. He was not reluctant to speak with the media. I've listed some of his statements in the appendix. He's very clear about where he was in relation to the second bomb:
Something told Clowery the group would be safer in the middle of Boylston Street than behind the waist-high spectator barricade outside the bar. He put one hand on the barricade and began to vault it. When the second bomb went off at ground level just a few feet away, Clowery’s legs were atop the metal fence. That’s why he still has them.
So Clowery was just leaping a barrier when the second bomb exploded. He estimates he was only three feet away from it:
“I was hopping the railing when I heard the first bomb go off,” Clowery recalled. “I told everybody, ‘Get in the street, get in the street!’ I was three feet from the bomb. The bomb blew under me, filling me from my ass to my ankles in shrapnel but, obviously, leaving me whole.”
He was blown into the street:
He was blown into Boylston Street by the blast and opened his eyes to a scene of unspeakable carnage. A few feet away, a small boy lay dead. The street was awash in blood, littered with body parts.
There's a photo with him sitting on the street with torn clothes:

                                 source: Kenshin Okubo/AP

In the background, there is a crosswalk and a pole. They indicate that Clowery is sitting right on the crossing Boylston Street/Ring Road. This is confirmed by a second photo:


In the center of this image, on the right lane of Boylston Street below the red light, there is an obviously injured person who gets help from bystanders. Here's a zoom in:

The location of this group of people (Boylston Street/Ring Road) matches the first photo. The lady with blue jeans and the black cap who cares for Clowery in the first photo is identifiable on the second, too (with her right knee on the ground). The two photos confirm each other, and there can be no doubt about Clowery's location after the blast.

To complete the picture, only one question remains: which barrier did Clowery try to leap over? There are two candidates: the barrier which was blown across the street (you can see it in the second photo), and the deformed barrier which was wrapped around the mailbox. The fact that the first candidate was blown into a different direction than Clowery himself makes the deformed barrier the only remaining possibility.

Clowery's statements and the photos result in the following diagram:

Adding the injured people in the immediate aftermath of the explosion to the picture, the crime scene looks like this (please look here for background information and an explanation of the diagram):

It is remarkable that, while Clowery was blown away at least 30 feet, victims B, C, and D were forced to ground without being displaced. They seem to be more seriously injured than him though. In case the prosecution intends to summon Jarrod Clowery as a witness it should be aware of these oddities.

Steven Byrne is also very detailed in his accounts (see appendix): he was watching the runners, and the mailbox was, from his point of view, right of him, and saved him:
The mailbox Byrnes was standing next to shielded him from the worst of the blast.
However, as the available photos show, the mailbox was outside the barriers, i.e. if the mailbox protected Byrne, the bomb must also have been outside the barrier (at location 1 in the next diagram):

The official story - "Tsarnaev's bag was the second bomb" - is reflected by location 2. But there is no mailbox between location 2 and Byrne: he's fully exposed to the bomb.

Moreover, he claims that the blast blew him over the barrier, just like Clovery:
BYRNE: And just as he said that, is when the explosion hit. It blew me over the fence into the streets and stuff some of --
COOPER: It actually carried you over?

BYRNE: It carried me over.
Obviously a bomb at location 1 or 2 wouldn't have taken Byrne over the barrier - wrong direction. If we assume this really happened, the bomb must have been placed in his back, somewhere near location 3. But this has not been claimed by anyone, and there's no evidence at all for location 3 being the epicenter.

Byrne's statements are puzzling, and the prosecution should take that into regard if it intends to summon him as a witness against Tsarnaev.

Disclaimer: I don't accuse any of the persons mentioned in this article of intentionally and voluntarily saying the untruth.

Appendix - the statements of Jarrod Clowery and Steve Byrne

“Before I could finish saying, ‘Get your ass in the street,’ boom!” Clowery recalls.

He was blown into Boylston Street by the blast and opened his eyes to a scene of unspeakable carnage. A few feet away, a small boy lay dead. The street was awash in blood, littered with body parts. Costello was tangled in a barricade, his shirt and pants partially burned away.

“I actually thought to myself, ‘Are these my last breaths?’ ” Costello recalls. “From head to toe, I was like on fire.” He got up and started to make his way down Boylston Street, his shirt smoldering, asking for help. No one came to his aid in those first few moments. He sat on the curb and pulled two nails from his abdomen.

Chain-smoking on a bench beside the Mystic River outside Spaulding, Clowery could be any guy in long, dark sweatpants and a light sweatshirt, until he rolls up his sleeve to show what looks like a small field of blackheads on the underside of his left wrist. It is actually debris — wood, plastic, dirt and other detritus blasted into his arm by the bomb. The nastiest wound is from a hot nail that entered his skin lengthwise. Sometimes Clowery uses tweezers to pull out tiny bits. Surgeons have removed denim from his thigh.

In his right leg are three nails, 20 BBs and a metal spring. He faces more surgery to remove some of the objects, but others will be left to work their way to the surface or remain in his body forever. His left hand, contracted and burned by the blast, has been massaged back to health by occupational therapists. Sometimes it shakes uncontrollably.

The two bombs killed three people and injured more than 260. Clowery was sure his friends were among the dead. He remembers arguing with medical personnel before finally accepting that some had been brought to the hospital with him. “You didn’t see what I saw,” he told them.
Everyone in the Stoneham group survived. But both Norden brothers lost their right legs. Fucarile lost his right leg and suffered severe damage to his left. Costello was badly burned. Webb suffered shrapnel wounds in both legs, but, like Clowery, has gone home.

J.P. Norden met up with some friends, including Fucarile and Clowery, and brother Paul met up with his girlfriend Webb and Costello. They came by different routes — using a combination of trains, subways, taxis, and cars.
They decided to meet in front of the Forum restaurant on Boylston Street, where they knew Jefferson’s mother and family were tracking his race online on their phones.
Several of them were taken aback by the $25 charge to enter the Forum, so the friends decided to watch from the sidewalk.
When the first explosion hit a block away, J.P. Norden and Clowery were next to each other. Clowery remembers yelling, “Get into the street!” and jumping a guardrail.
He had his hands and feet on the guardrail and was yelling to Webb to jump as well, when the second blast unleashed. J.P. stayed on the ground, helping his brother to hoist Webb over the rail.
Being above-ground likely spared Clowery’s legs, while being on the ground claimed the Nordens’ and Fucarile’s.

“I was hopping the railing when I heard the first bomb go off,” Clowery recalled. “I told everybody, ‘Get in the street, get in the street!’ I was three feet from the bomb. The bomb blew under me, filling me from my ass to my ankles in shrapnel but, obviously, leaving me whole. The others were still flat-footed on the ground. That’s why they took the brunt of the damage. But let me tell you something: My friends Marc, J.P., and Paul are pretty big guys. They saved people’s lives by taking that blast. And now they need help.”

They heard the first explosion and Clowery said, “I had this gut feeling it was bad, and could feel the crowd shifting and thought we should try to get out into the street,” from behind the barricades penning in spectators. They were close to the mailbox that can be seen in many photographs, standing just behind the row of people leaning on the railing lining the street.

He shouted at his friends to “move, get your ass out into the street” and hop the metal fencing. He got both of his hands onto the railing, but before they all could clamber over, another bomb went off. Clowery believes he already was in the air, clearing the metal guardrail, when the explosion hit, which may have saved his legs. His friends still were grounded. “They’re all big guys. I think they spared some other people when they took that impact.”

“I just prayed for no more explosions,” and “then I’m not clear about everything. I was stunned” and out on the street, pants torn and receiving aid from two police officers, one a Connecticut state trooper and another an officer from a Connecticut town, television footage shows. He’s made a point of learning their names so he can say thank you-he has so many thank yous, he said. “My leg was like hamburger and my hands were messed up.”

When he heard the first explosion, Clowery said, he knew it was not an accident. "I knew right away in my gut it wasn't a gas leak," he said. "I saw the open space in the street, I said, 'Let's get in the street.'"

As Clowery cleared the railing, he paused to urge his friends to follow him. That was when the second bomb exploded.

"I remember feeling engulfed," he said. "Just like the movies—all the sound got taken away."

Clowery continued: "I remember trying to count my fingers and feel my feet. My hand was too much to look at."
He looked down at his legs. He didn't want to look at them, either.

At a press conference at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital, Clowery said, "When the first explosion goes off, my friend says, 'What the...!'" Clowery, a carpenter from Stoneham, Mass., went to watch the finish with four of his childhood friends outside Forum bar. He says when the first bomb went off, he knew right away what it was. Instinct told him to jump the crowd-control fencing and get onto Boylston Street.

He hoisted himself up, pausing only long enough to scream to one of his friends to get to the street too. Little did he know, that he may have been just above the second bomb. "And then, boom!" Clowery said. "I remember feeling engulfed," he said. "I got thrown into the street and then, just like the movies, all the sound got taken away."

COOPER: So where were you standing? Just so in relationship to the first explosion?

BYRNE: We were at the second --

COOPER: You were at the second?



BYRNE: And there was right where you see the picture where they show the backpack and the mailbox, that's exactly where we were.

COOPER: So you are -- if you were facing the mailbox you were to the right of it?

BYRNE: Just to the left of it. They were to the right of it.


BYRNE: So that's why they suffered, you know.

COOPER: So the shrapnel that hit you is shrapnel that came over the mailbox?

BYRNE: Came all those BB's, nails. So, you know, my friend had 70 nails in his leg.

COOPER: Seventy nails.

BYRNE: Seventy nails. And you know, I had BBs, there's still one in my neck that the doctors couldn't take out because it's too close to my nerves that control my vision. Most of my face came out, you know, due to the surgery and stuff like that. And just burns. I mean, it burned the clothes right off of us, it was --

COOPER: Really? Your clothes were actually burned off you?

BYRNE: Right off of us. Just undescribable.

COOPER: Do you remember the blast?

BYRNE: I remember everything about it.

COOPER: Really?


COOPER: Can you walk me through? I mean, what stands --

BYRNE: The first explosion went off just down the block from us. And --

COOPER: Did you know something was wrong then?

BYRNE: We knew it wasn't something to do with the marathon, and, you know, we were ready to get going and get out of there, and our friend, you know, Jared said, let's get the girls over the fence. And just as he said that, is when the explosion hit. It blew me over the fence into the streets and stuff some of --

COOPER: It actually carried you over?

BYRNE: It carried me over, and just the force, and the heat, and the burn from it, the chemicals in the bomb, just had me on fire and everyone else -- as I came through, just in the days of, you know, what was going on, just looking for my friends and stuff like that. It was just absolute chaos. You know, I saw things that, you know, I wish I didn't see. You know, people losing limbs and just stuff -- it was bad.

Steve Byrnes and his buddies, JP and Paul Norden, were enjoying the spectacle. They didn't notice the man nearby setting down his backpack.

"It's an eerie picture because that was taken on the good part of the day when we were having a blast," said Byrnes, looking at a screenshot from surveillance video that shows the Boston bombing suspect in the background.

"I'm deaf in my right ear. A little bit of vision loss in the right eye. Shrapnel in my face still that, for whatever reason, needs to stay there," Byrnes said. "The one in my neck needs to stay because it's on my jugular vein and the nerves that control my vision."

His friends, JP and Paul Norden, each lost a leg. The mailbox Byrnes was standing next to shielded him from the worst of the blast.