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Tsarnaev Pleads Not Guilty To Boston Marathon Bombing


Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev made a brief appearance in federal court yesterday. He pleaded not guilty to 30 counts in connection with the attack. The charges include using a weapon of mass destruction in an attack that killed three people and injured more than 260. The 19-year-old faces the possibility of the death penalty. NPR's Tovia Smith was in the courtroom.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Tsarnaev looked unkempt in his orange prison jumpsuit and shaggy hair, and uncomfortable, both with the proceedings and physically. His arm was in a cast. His jaw and one eye appeared swollen and disfigured and his mouth somewhat crooked. He was fidgeting constantly, especially as the judge noted that there were 30 victims of the bombings and their relatives in the courtroom.

LIZ NORDEN: I actually felt sick to my stomach. It's very emotional for me.

SMITH: Liz Norden has two sons who each lost a leg in the attack. They chose to stay away. As another victim put it, I want to focus on my own healing, not on him. But others felt the need to see the man accused of such callous killing, as MIT police chief John DiFava put it. One of his officers, Sean Collier, was allegedly killed by Tsarnaev and his brother the night of the police chase.

JOHN DIFAVA: He's a punk. He showed no remorse.

SMITH: Rather, Tsarnaev appeared uninterested and restless. His attorney attempted to enter his not guilty pleas for him, but the judge insisted Tsarnaev answer for himself and seven times, he repeated the words not guilty.

NANCY GERTNER: This was theater to require him to say that he was not guilty on each count. Literally, it's theater.

SMITH: Former federal judge Nancy Gertner says there was no legal reason to force Tsarnaev to speak for himself. She also says people should not read anything into his not guilty plea. It was the only option at this point in a case like this, she says, where the death penalty is possible.

GERTNER: This is the opening salvo to, sort of, put the government to its proof. Really, it's just the opening ceremony of the trail.

SMITH: Also, on hand to witness it were some of Tsarnaev's family, two women, one with a baby, wept and appeared to pray through the hearing. Tsarnaev blew kisses at them on his way out. There was also a small group of supporters who had waited since early morning to get one of the 20 seats reserved for the public. Several said they didn't personally know Tsarnaev, but believed he was innocent and was being framed.

Forty-four year old Mildred Valverde, who still walks with crutches after being injured at the blast found that most disturbing.

MILDRED VALVERDE: He turned and looked at his supporters. He kind of had like a smirk on his face, which was kind of upsetting.

SMITH: Valverde says she can't fathom Tsarnaev could ever be found not guilty, but she doesn't want him to get the death penalty. I want him to suffer in jail for the rest of his life, she said, for all the suffering he's caused all these people, She said, he should suffer the same. Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tovia Smith is an award-winning NPR National Correspondent based in Boston, who's spent more than three decades covering news around New England and beyond.