Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Arrest of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev - Four Scenarios

                      source: Boston magazine

The recently published medical report for Dzohkhar Tsarnaev lists a number of heavy injuries; the most severe is a gunshot wound which "entered through the inside of his mouth", damaged his skull base, jaw and ear and exited through the neck. The report doesn't say if this wound was self-inflicted or not.

The above photo was shot by Sgt. Sean Murphy of the Massachussetts police and published by the Boston magazine on July 18th. It shows Tsarnaev at the boat, raising his hands to indicate surrender.

Taking this photo as a time stamp and confronting it with the medical report generates four possible scenarios:

1 - The wound was self-inflicted before the surrender
2 - The wound was self-inflicted after the surrender
3 - The wound was not self-inflicted and inflicted before the surrender
4 - The wound was not self-inflicted and inflicted after the surrender

Each scenario has its specific weaknesses and problems. But only one can be true. Probably the one with the least weaknesses and problems. The following reality check is in part based on my own considerations, in part on information obtained from E. F. Beall's firedoglake blog:


1 - The wound was self-inflicted before the surrender

Narrative: Tsarnaev tried to commit suicide by shooting himself in the mouth. But he survived. After that, he decided to surrender. This version was promoted by John Miller, the FBI expert of CBS.

Plausibility problems:

-  No gun was found. Where's the gun?

-  His physical condition after the shot would not have allowed him to climb over the side of the boat and raise his hand for surrender.

-  The surrender photos show him in a passable physical condition apparently without a big gunshot wound in his head.

-  No motive to surrender: for what reason didn't he, after the attempted suicide, again try to shoot himself? He was still able to move his arms and legs.

2 - The wound was self-inflicted after the surrender

Narrative: After raising his hands for surrendering, he suddenly grabbed under his trouses, drew a gun and shot himself into the mouth.

Plausibility problems:

-  No gun was found or confiscated from him. Where's the gun?

-  On the surrender photo he is under tight control of the police. Several gun lasers are pointing at him. If he would undertake even the slightest attempt to draw something out of his clothing, he would be shot at once by a police sniper. No chance to put a gun into his mouth and fire.

3 - The wound was not self-inflicted and inflicted before the surrender

Narrative: When the police fired on the boat, one of the shots accidentally went through his mouth.
Update: An alternative narrative is that the wound was inflicted on him even hours before, during the Watertown shootout. CNN's Poppy Harlow subscribes to this theory.

Plausibility problems:

-  The probability that a bullet entered through his open mouth is extremely small. It implies that he had his mouth open and directed exactly towards the line of fire, resulting in a "magic bullet" story.

-  His physical condition after the shot would not have allowed him to climb over the side of the boat and raise his hands for surrender - let alone to flee from the Watertown shootout scene.

-  The surrender photos show him in a passable physical condition apparently without a big gunshot wound in his head.

4 - The wound was not self-inflicted and inflicted after the surrender

Narrative: He was shot in the mouth accidentally or intentionally by the police (or, unlikely, someone else) after the surrender.

Plausibility problems:

-  No motive for the police to shoot at someone who had already surrendered and was under control.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Boston Marathon: Transcript of Interview with Forum Employees

The following is the transcript of an interview with five Forum employees, aired on April 19th by NBC in Brian Williams' "Rock Center", recording date unknown. Apart from the introduction and the final remarks, I transcribed the entire interview. The interviewer is Harry Smith. I apologize for possibly spelling names wrong and transcription faults. The video is here:

For unknown reason Callie Benjamin, who also was working at the Forum and whose story was reported by several local newspapers, is not among the interviewees. Therefore I put her statement in front of the transcript to put it into perspective. I abstain from any comment for now, just to say that the reason I posted this interview is of course its relevance for the epicenter question.

"It sounded like a cannon or something," Benjamin said. "We didn't know what it was. An employee went to another window to see if something exploded and all of the sudden the second explosion went off and the windows shattered."

As customers began to panic, Benjamin yelled at them to stop running. She ushered them through the kitchen, down the back stairs and into an alley.

After that, she went to check on the main-floor dining room and patio. The explosion had blown people onto the main stairway, keeping her from getting there, but she saw the damage it caused. "There were a lot of people lying on the floor covered (in) glass and blood, a lot of glass and blood," Benjamin said.

After being blocked at the stairs, Benjamin saw her manager and an owner running down the back stairs. She asked what she could do to help and followed them to the basement.

SMITH: What was it like in the restaurant Monday morning?

CHRIS LOPER: It was exciting, you know. I remember getting in just before 8 o'clock, turning the music up and was just very upbeat, sunny day...

OFF: Chris Loper is the General manager of Forum, 200 yards from the Marathon finish line.

JULIE WHEATON: It was such a beautiful day, everone is excited for the Marathon to watch the race and for the Red Sox game...

OFF: Julie Wheaton is a former Forum bartender who came back to work just for Patriots' Day.

SMITH: What did you write on your Facebook page?

JULIE WHEATON: 6 o'clock in the morning I wrote: coming back for once, a last special stand to my favorite bar in my favorite city on my favorite day.

OFF: Noone had an inkling of what was about to happen. The restaurant and its patio up front were getting more crowded by the minute.

(video clip - first explosion)

SMITH: Where were you when you heard the first explosion?

JOSHUA GLOVER: I was two feet behind the host stand in the front of the restaurant. I thought it was a cannon, some sort of celebration, something or other...

OFF: Joshua Glover is an assistant manager. He says after the initial blast up the street most of the restaurant's patrons moved toward the front to try to figure out what was going on. It was the worst place they could be.

SMITH: Where were you when the first explosion happened?

JAMIS MADEIROS: Right in front by the VIP section. It kind of shook the building a little bit, and people all around me were pressing forward and turned their neck down the street to see what it was ...

OFF: James Madeiras is Forum's assistant GM. Before anyone could understand the nature of the source of the first explosion the second bomb blew up directly in front of the restaurant.

(video clip - second explosion)

SMITH: Second explosion happens. What's the first thing you remember?

JAMIS MADEIROS: I was looking right out. There's a mailbox right there. And I was looking at the mailbox when it blew up, so I saw the actual... just an orange fire, looked like a huge firecracker or something. You just see it blossoms. As lot as the first one was, the second I don't ever recall hearing it to be honest with you, I just remember the... my mouth was full of grit, I recall for some reason it was just like dirt or dust or something, like also my whole mouth was just gritty and dirty, you know I feel like "Oh my God, this is really happening!" - and just people falling, there's glass everywhere, so I was worried about people falling on the glass. And everybody is running towards the back, people ducked behind couches - it was just the most (unintelligible) scene I've ever seen. It was just chaos, it was crazy.

OFF: Heather Gilbow was also bartending that day.

HEATHER GILBOW: I remember it hitting me that it was something... someone was trying to hurt people, it was intentional, the second explosion. I remember screaming and then I remember getting my bearings and looking up and just seeing people run.

OFF: The able-bodied and the slightly injured rushed out the back exit, but not the employees. They stayed. They've seen a scene of carnage that was difficult to comprehend.

SMITH: July - does anything prepare you for witnessing what you witnessed?

JULIE WHEATON: No, no... you literally just... it's instinct... and you just go and do what you can to help people. The first thing what I did I checked on my friends that were on the ground and then I grabbed ice and towels... and then I went up to the front and that's when I saw... complete... you know... nightmare, massacre. There was blood, there was people on the street, on the sidewalks, you know, on the patio... you know... there is a body part here that I saw and there is something else over there, but there's so much blood and you don't stop and think you don't get yourself a chance to realize what is actually going on.

OFF: Forum employees became first responders.

CHRIS LOPER: The most injured people were out just in front of the patio, but because of the uncertainty there were people bringing them into the restaurant to try to aid them. There were members of our staff that were right there holding on to people, taking their belts off to stop, you know, bleeding and different things like that.

OFF: Many of the people the Forum staff helped were strangers. Others they knew well, quite well, like Julie's friend Heather Abbott.

JULIE WHEATON: She's actually in the hospital right now, she's getting a surgery today. They are trying to reattach her foot.

SMITH: All of it is so traumatic, but you have somebody you know, have a friend of yours, almost have...

JULIE WHEATON: I feel guilty.

SMITH: You feel guilty?

JULIE WHEATON: (begins to sob)

SMITH. Why do you feel guilty?

JULIE WHEATON: (still sobbing) Thinking that she's there and seeing me.

OFF: Forum became a makeshift triage center. Aiding and comforting the wounded was the only concern.

JAMIS MADEIROS: We talk about like what people did to help and you see like binding up the injuries and stuff like that. And my most enduring image is a bartender. He was sitting on the floor. He had an injured woman's head on his lap. He was stroking her hair, comforting her. And that to me was all she needed. In a horrible time it was a beautiful thing to see just something so simple.

SMITH: What makes you say: I'm staying here and help these people?

CHRIS LOPER: I think it's just human nature, it's the nature of the people that work at Forum. It's the nature of a lot of people from Boston. You see someone hurting and you want to help.

OFF: An instinct so strong that even when the were ordered to leave, noone botched.

CHRIS LOPER: It was funny. Once the police came in - I remember so vividly them saying "Everyone get out! Everyone get out!" And I was saying "No!" This was one of the few times when you could say that to a police officer. (chuckling)

SMITH: In language perhaps a little more colorful than that?

CHRIS LOPER: Perhaps a little more Bostonian and colored than that, yes Sir.

OFF: Only one former employee was seriously hurt, but he's doing fine. The reality of what happened Monday is still sinking in.

JAMIS MADEIROS: It's amazing to me that more people weren't killed by the explosions, it's amazing to me that more people aren't hurt. I look at the pictures and them crying out (unintelligible) I work, and I know that. There was nothing between me and that explosion. I don't know how - it didn't. I'm lucky I'm alive, I'm lucky I wasn't hurt, like these guys here aren't hurt... it's amazing.

JULIE WHEATON: You know at the end of the day after I had a chance to reflect on everything I was angry. I was so angry. You know - people took this great day, this great holiday, this amazing day, it's everyone's favorite day in Boston, and ruined it.

SMITH: Stunning to me to think: you really are at the heart of the terror, and you all stay. Are you heroes?

EMPLOYEES: No. No. No. No.

JAMIS MADEIROS: You know like some people (unintelligible). We were at the wrong place at the wrong time, but we did the right thing.

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.