Monday, October 21, 2013

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev case: the account of Roseann Sdoia

In my preceding blog entry I've argued that the epicenter of the Forum bomb can easily and reliably be determined by comparing pre-blast photo/video footage with post-blast footage. While some post-blast footage has found its way to the public - I've presented it in several earlier postings -, the crucial pre-blast footage, which is basically the videotape showing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev dropping his bag and the subsequent explosion, is still a secret and only known to the FBI, the Boston police, the prosecution - and, notably, the defense.

Coincidentally, the local TV station WGBH has recently aired a report on Roseann Sdoia, who is one of the most affected victims of the bombings. She lost her right leg. The report is an update on her condition, including an early interview conducted in May. It reanimates the story that the bomb's epicenter was near the mailbox by showing an obsolete picture with the spotlighted mailbox and an underlying comment that locates Sdoia at the mailbox before the blast:

"She had ordered a drink at at the bar at the Forum. Then she got a text that her friends were approaching the finish line. She went out and stood right near this mailbox. She heard the first explosion and thought it was odd. Then the second went off right next to her."

It is not clear from the report if the mailbox information comes from Sdoia herself or has been added arbitrarily by the WGBH editors. The original interview clarifies that. It has been published on May 7th in two different versions. One version covers the entire interview while the other one has been redacted and shortened. I've transcribed the crucial excerpt. The text in the bold font is covered by both versions; the text in the normal font is missing in the redacted version.

ROSEANN SDOIA: We walked over Boylston Street and went to one of the local bars there that we've gone to again for years, knowing that different friends were going to meet up there later. And we got notification that one of your friends was close to coming down Boylston Street, so we ended up going out to watch the race. We were standing along the road and just cheering on the runners and waiting. And it was just really weird. Other friends had shown up at that point I was before with my girlfriends. And because I'm short  - there was a mailbox there - and I moved to the right of the mailbox so that I could be you know one of the first ones to see my friend Jan coming down. And my friend Megan actually even asked to stand next to me because there was a gentleman next to me. She said if she might kind of squeeze in here to see her friend. He said that he was waiting for his fiancee to come down the road so my friend Megan took a step back. And within a couple of minutes the first bomb went off. It was just really strange because, again, I've done that for so long. They've never had guns or cannons or you know something to salute the runners. So I thought it was strange. But it all happened so quickly. Some guy next to me yelled "the building went down" or "beware of the smoke". And I looked... I stood on the railing to look down and saw the smoke coming up. And a gentleman told us to get to the middle of the street, and there were the barriers. I just remember everybody was kind of trying to get over, get out or just kind of run. That was all like so quick. There was just a "pop, pop". And it was literally at my feet, it just... I thought it was like more nails being kind of thrown in. But just because I was guessing... I thought it hit the ground or came from the ground. And then I just remember kind of not knowing what was going on.
INTERVIEWER: So the second one was what hit you.

ROSEANN SDOIA: Exactly, it was the second one.

As it turns out, Roseann Sdoia is indeed the origin of the sensible mailbox information, which has been omitted in the redacted interview version. With all respect to Mrs. Sdoia, but if she wanted to say that she was standing next to the mailbox and the bomb exploded right next to her, there must be something wrong with her recollections - or she has undergone some kind of pressure from whoever. The geographical conditions at the Forum crime scene and the photographic evidence are simply not compatible with her account.

I've sketched my line of argumentation for this in the appendix. It should be noted that regardless if my objections are appropriate or not, the defense team doesn't have to bother about the problem. They do have the video footage from prior to the blast, so they do know the exact locations of Roseann Sdoia and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's bag. And because the prosecutors don't list Sdoia as an eyewitness in their motions, her account will probably not play a role in the trial. It does shed some light however onto the massive disinformation campaign that was undertaken to "move" the actual location of the epicenter - the patio - to a ficticious one - the mailbox - in order to make Tsarnaev a patsy.


The first diagram is based on Sdoia's descriptions and depicts the situation at the mailbox before the first blast: she said that she (RS) moved to the right of the mailbox; she said also that the bomb exploded "literally at my feet". But because Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (DT) carried his bag over his right shoulder, he must have been between Sdoia and his bag after he dropped it. The locations of her friend Megan (M) and the "gentleman" (G) accrue from Sdoia's interview.


The next two photos show the crime scene about 20 seconds after the blast. 

The post-blast diagram is based on these photos. The red ovals represent Sdoia (RS) and a man lying on the ground (E). Barrier 2 was bent by the force of the blast, barrier 3 was blown away.


The diagram suffers from at least three physical impossibilities:

1 - it is impossible that Roseann Sdoia ended up at the curb, given that the blast must have hit her from the right side.

2 - it is impossible that barrier 2 was bent by the blast because the impact occurred in a smooth angle in relation to the the barrier's orientation.

3 - it is entirely unexplainable how victim E managed to arrive between the blast's epicenter and Roseann Sdoia and where he came from.

Corollary: the array of persons in the pre-blast diagram does not reflect the real situation at the Forum in the seconds before the bomb exploded.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

How to find out the epicenter of a bomb blast: a lesson for the Boston FBI

The prosecution's response to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's request for more time regarding the death penalty recommendation has recently been published. For the first time, the public has now the opportunity to get a glimpse into the prosecutors' cards when it comes to their evidence that Tsarnaev's backpack was the Forum bomb. And as matters stand, their cards are hardly worth a bet.

The only incriminating evidence the prosecution has submitted to the defense with regards to the Marathon bombing - at least the only one cited - is the surveillance video which shows Tsarnaev staying in front of the Forum for four minutes, dropping his bag and abandoning it in the seconds between the first and the second explosion. The prosecution doesn't cite any eyewitnesses or physical evidence confirming that the backpack was the epicenter of the bomb.

So because the video is the only established evidence against Tsarnaev, in order to be useful for the death penalty it must show not only that he drops his backpack - but also that this very same backpack causes the subsequent blast. A survey of statements from officials raises serious doubts that the second condition is fulfilled.

1 - FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (now retired) on the April 18th press conference:

Suspect 2 set down a backpack at the site of the second explosion just in front of the Forum Restaurant. We strongly encourage those who were at the Forum Restaurant who have not contacted us yet to do so.

DesLauriers does not say that he factually saw the backpack exploding in the video. He dodges. In the following Q/A session, he admits that it's only his "believe" that Tsarnaev's backpack was "the device".

Question: Are both suspects seen planting these devices at the finish line of the Boston Marathon?
Rick DesLauriers: No, the only one who was observed planting what we believe to be the device is suspect number 2 with the white cap.

2 - Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who has not even seen the video himself:

“It does seem to be pretty clear that this suspect took the backpack off, put it down, did not react when the first explosion went off and then moved away from the backpack in time for the second explosion,” Mr. Patrick said. “It’s pretty clear about his involvement and pretty chilling, frankly.” Mr. Patrick said he hadn’t viewed the videotape but had been briefed by law enforcement officials about it.

Patrick describes how Tsarnaev took his backpack off, put it down and then moved away "in time". What Patrick does not say is that the backpack exploded.

3 - FBI Special Agent David Genck, who formulated the initial complaint from April 22th:

He walks away without his knapsack, having left it on the ground where he had been standing. Approximately 10 seconds later, an explosion occurs in the location where Bomber two had placed his knapsack.

Genck avoids simply saying "approximately 10 seconds later, the knapsack explodes" and chooses a pretty hazy wording. Why? His subsequent remarks give a hint:

I have observed video and photographic footage of the location where the second explosion occurred from a number of viewpoints and angels, including from directly across the street. I can discern nothing in that location in the period before the explosion that might have caused that explosion, other than Bomber Two's knapsack.

It is apparent that the last remarks are added only because the footage of the moment of the explosion itself doesn't allow for an exact determination of the epicenter. This is not surprising at all because the flash and the concussion caused by the blast may have made such an accurate determination impossible.

So it turns out that the FBI has not even bothered to verify the bomb's hot spot by other means. The suspicious behavior of Tsarnaev was enough proof for them that his backpack contained the deadly load.

It is no rocket science however to determine the epicenter of a bomb which was planted inmidst a crowd - provided there is video or photographic footage before and after the explosion. A simple model shows how it works. Assumed we have two persons, A and B, who were displaced by the force of a bomb explosion. The blue circles represent their respective locations before the blast, the red circles thereafter.

The epicenter can - with a certain unsharpness of course - simply determined by connecting A's former and later location with a line and doing the same with B. The intersection point of the two lines is the presumable epicenter.

This principle can be applicated to the Forum crime scene. The photo was shot 18 seconds after the second blast. Beside the mailbox, there is a man lying on the ground and a woman at the bent barrier (in part covered by the policeman), both of them heavily wounded and obviously displaced by the bomb.

The following diagram illustrates the situation, neglecting all other people around them. The man is represented by the D oval, the woman by the E oval:

Unfortunately, there are no photos or videos from the crime scene immediately before the explosion available to the public (the photo allegedly showing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev near Martin Richard is a fake, as I've already shown). So let's assume Mr. D and Mrs. E were standing in the middle of the sidewalk prior to the blast. It is impossible under this hypothesis that Tsarnaev's backpack was the bomb, because he dropped it near the metal barrier, i.e. closer to the street - according to the prosecution and the surveillance video. The next diagram illustrates this paradox, with the blue circles indicating the hypothetical pre-blast locations of D and E.

With the simple method described above it is possible to determine that the epicenter was - under this hypothesis - on the patio:

To stress it again, the locations of D and E prior to the blast are hypothetical, because I'm not in the possession of photos or videos from immediately before the blast. But the FBI is, and they have certainly footage from the immediate aftermath of the blast, too. The FBI and the prosecution don't need to "believe" (DesLauriers) that Tsarnaev's bag was the epicenter of the bomb - they could have found out by simply matching the pre-blast footage with the post-blast footage. And they should have done it before accusing an apparently innocent young man of planting a cruel and deadly nail bomb.

So why didn't the FBI check the footage to determine the epicenter?

Thursday, October 03, 2013

This child is not Jane Richard

Source: Boston Herald / Matt Patterson

This famous photo, shot two minutes after the the bomb explosions at Boston Marathon, shows how first aiders Matt Patterson and Mike Chase carry a wounded child, looking for an ambulance car. On the rightmost there is a man and a boy arm in arm turning away from them. I portrayed the couple in my previous blog entry as "Father and Son".

It seems to be generally accepted by the media and the public that the child is Jane Richard, the sister of killed Martin Richard. This is impossible, however. The child is certainly not Jane Richard. It is not necessary to harrass the Richard family with this problem; there are sufficient other witnesses to disprove the story told by the media, among them the people who cared for the child in the first fateful seconds, the doctors of Boston's Children's hospital, or Representative Stephen Lynch, a friend of the Richards. The story of this fallacy is an interesting one and possible to deconstruct with the help of these witnesses.

The David Green video and several photos show a group of people right on Boylston Street, gathering around the child and caring for it. As the group is located vis a vis the Atlantic Fish restaurant, I'll call it the Atlantic Fish group. The group existed for less than a minute - a minute none of them will ever forget though - and consisted of:

- an unidentified man about 40 years old ("Father")
- an unidentified boy, probably the man's son, about 13 years old ("Son")
- Matt Patterson
- Mike Chase
- Tracy Monroe

In this snapshot from the David Green video, 1 minute 38 seconds after the second blast, all five of them are visible, from left to right: Mike Chase, Matt Patterson (kneeing), Father, Son, Tracy Monroe (cowering).

While Tracy Monroe said that the child was a girl and identified herself as "Jane" (see appendix), Chase and Patterson initially said it was a boy, as reflected by this headline from Hollywood Life Magazine:

Both of them adopted the "girl" version only belatedly. Before proceeding, I must clarify one point. It is not my intention to blame the exemplarily behaving members of the Atlantic Fish group, especially not Matt Patterson who delivered an impressive performance in order to save the child's life, as documented in the Daniel Green video and also the Fred Land video which shows him jumping over a barrier. The blame is on the media professionals who literally foisted the wrong story on them.

The Child's gender is only a minor point in deconstructing the story, however. The ultimate reason why it's impossible that the Child is Jane Richard is the nature of the injury.

All witnesses say that the Child had lost a leg. In an early interview (see appendix), Matt Patterson discloses some details: "it appeared to be a child, male, between the age of 7 to 9, severly injured, right leg amputated (gesticulates as if he cuts something), about thigh-high..." Later in the interview, he says that he put on the tourniquet "really thigh-high". So the leg was torn off above the knee. In this state the Child was taken into hospital.

Jane Richard's leg however was not torn off by the explosion. On Tuesday night after Marathon, doctors were still undecided if they needed to amputate it, according to Rep. Stephen Lynch. Moreover, Jane's leg was finally amputated below the knee, according to the family's website. On August 15th, the family published a photo of Jane with her new prosthetic leg. She obviously still has her left thigh and knee. In contrast to that, an appalling photo of the Atlantic Fish group's child shows a "thigh-high" amputated leg (Patterson). This is hardly the same child:

A check-up with the Boston hospitals is the logical next step. According to local reports, the victims were treated in six hospitals: Massachusetts General hospital, Boston medical center, Beth Israel medical center, Tufts medical center, Brigham and Women's hospital, and the Children's hospital. An overview of the incoming patients is here.

Most of the injured children, but not all, were brought to the Children's hospital; Boston medical center reports two children, one of them a 5-year old, heavily injured. For the other hospitals no children are reported, not meaning there were none.

The number of children brought to the Children's hospital varies from 7 to 9, depending on the report. Also the age of the patients varies slightly, probably because it is mostly estimated. Among them only two patients are potential candidates for being Jane Richard or the Child. The Boston Globe reported on April 16th - here's a snapshot:

The article seems to have been edited the same day. The gender-neutral "9-year old who lost a leg" and "10 year-old who suffered deep shrapnel wounds" underwent a slight metamorphosis - here's the mirror version on

Now we have a girl and a boy, all of a sudden. A list of the other patients at the hospital is here. None of them qualifies for the heavy wounds of Jane or the Child. The "10 year-old boy with deep shrapnel wounds" can quickly be identified as Aaron Hern, who was actually 11. He was standing in front of the Forum and indeed a patient of the Children's hospital.

This leaves the "9-year old (girl)" the only remaining candidate for Jane or the Child. Is it possible that they are one and the same person? Dr. David P. Mooney, the hospital's trauma director and spokesman remembers the poor patient two months later:

Doctors at Boston Children's Hospital had only a few minutes to prepare for the youngest victims of the Boston Marathon bombings before paramedics rushed the first patient into the emergency department. One child was burned and covered in soot with a tourniquet compressing a mangled leg, said David P. Mooney, MD, MPH, a surgeon and director of the hospital's trauma center who was on duty that day.

Covered in soot, tourniquet, mangled leg - this is a perfect description of the Atlantic Fish group's child. And especially the last symptom doesn't consort well with what Stephen Lynch related about Jane Richard - that the doctors still hadn't decided on Tuesday if her leg had to be amputated. Jane Richard was also brought to Children's hospital though, according to the family's website.

If the Child is not Jane Richard, this is proof that Jane was not at the Forum, and, because the family was together, Martin neither. So the question is highly relevant for one central accusation against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: that his bag killed Martin Richard. If the prosecution has to drop this point, this could constitute a reason to mitigate the death penalty. Tsarnaev therefore has a lively interest to obtain statements from - among others - these persons:

- Matt Patterson
- Mike Chase
- Tracy Monroe
- Unidentified man (Father)
- Unidentified boy (Son)
- Stephen Lynch
- Dr. David Mooney and the staff of Children's hospital



This video is a good summary of three interviews with Patterson:

In the first interview (CBS), the off-voice explains that there was a boy with a missing leg.

In the second interview, the only unredacted one, Patterson goes more into detail: "it appeared to be a child, male, between the age of 7 to 9, severly injured, right leg amputated (gesticulates as if he cuts something), about thigh-high..." ... "...immediately applied a tourniquet to the right leg, really thigh-high..."

In the third interview (AP), which has the David Green video embedded, the off-voice explains that the child was Jane Richard, that she had lost a leg and told him her name was Jane. The contribution of Patterson to this meandering story is small - he only says "she" instead of "he".

Finally on CNN, Anderson Cooper put the desired words into Patterson's mouth:
COOPER: Well, since Boylston Street reopened, that's the memorial that has sprouted up, so many people leaving flowers, mementos, signs and cards, just remembering, pausing to remember those who lost their lives and those whose lives have been forever changed.
The Boston bombings took a heavy toll on one family; 8-year-old Martin Richard was killed in the blast, his mother and sister badly wounded. The Richards might have lost their little girl, Jane, if it hadn't been for a firefighter-paramedic from the Lynn Fire Department, who was off duty, having a drink with his girlfriend when the bomb blast went off.

He rushed in; he saw the little girl and he saved her life right after the second blast.

I asked him about those moments.

COOPER: So it was really the second blast when you realized...

MATT PATTERSON, FIREFIGHTER-PARAMEDIC: Second blast, yes, that took all doubts out of my mind. And I immediately -- I immediately started running towards the front, yelling for people to get back, get to the kitchen, get away from the windows, you know, not pushing people back, but, you know, at the same time, I was making it known that I was going forward and they were going the other way.

I get out to the patio and I don't know if it was just tunnel vision or fate or whatever it was, but I just looked and focused, and I just saw this one child in the middle of the street, just sitting there with this dazed, shocked look. Even from where I was, I could just tell this child was hurt.

COOPER: You could see her face.

PATTERSON: Yes, I could just -- yes, I could just tell. I mean, it's just -- like I said, that's why I don't know if it was tunnel vision or what, I just -- I zoomed in. Try and call it training or intuition or whatever, something was horribly wrong.

COOPER: Because it's pandemonium.


PATTERSON: It is. You know, it's hard to explain, but it is pandemonium. But you know, once you get something in your mind and once you focus on it, like that's the task at hand, because I don't know if it's training or if it's just the fact that I was distracted by just this one child, but it had my full attention.

COOPER: So you ran over to this little girl.

PATTERSON: I ran over to this little girl, who initially I thought was a boy. I knelt down, I you know, expressed, "Hi, I'm Matt; I'm here to help you." (Inaudible) a paramedic. I was like, you know, we're going to be all right. We're going to be OK.

Tracy Monroe is being interviewed on this video:


TM: The crowd was happy, everything was very celebratory, and out of the blue we heard the first explosion.

OFF: Tracy Monroe started running, then because of the children she turned and went back.

TM: I saw a little girl in the of held her head in my hands and just rubbed her and tried to comfort her and hold her hand and tried just keep her talking to me. And I asked her what her name was and she said, she just looked up to me and said "Jane".

OFF: Jane Richard lay stunned, her leg torn away.

TM: I just imagine that if my daughter were injured like that and I couldn't get to her....just...just the comfort, you know, she's just a baby. She was so badly injured and so scared. But she was so incredibly brave.

OFF: Only a few feet away, eight year old Martin - not moving.

TM: I saw him...(sighs deep) and at this point I was pretty sure that he was gone.

OFF: Tracy feels a bond to the entire Richard family, hopes to meet them, especially Jane.

TM: I'll never forget them and I'll never forget any of them - that litte girl. She was so brave - I'll never forget her little face

OFF: Jack Harper, WCVB NewsCenter 5.