Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Martin Richard - not visible in the Forum video?

Still from the CBS news program "60 Minutes" aired on March 23, 2014

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's lawyer David Bruck released a bombshell on yesterday's final hearing. He claimed that a video with Tsarnaev placing his backpack behind a child doesn't exist. The hearing was, as usual, not recorded, so the exact wording is not documented. However, the various live tweets allow to narrow down the wording quite well:

defense goes on to say that the videotape of Tsarnaev placing a backpack at the marathon doesn't exist. (Jim Armstrong, WBZ)

Bruck arguing that DesLauriers cited a video showing Tsarnaev placing the backpack behind a child. Bruck says that video "does not exist." (WBUR)

Defense says DesLauriers described video of Tsarnaev placing a backpack behind Martin Richard "THAT DOES NOT ACTUALLY EXIST" (Alysha Palumbo, NECN)

Bruck claims long rumored video of Tsarnaev placing bomb­filled backpack near little Martin Richard "does not exist". (Laurel Sweet, Boston Herald)

These examples already bear the germ for misunderstandings. Armstrong's tweet is clearly abridged. The most reliable seems to be the WBUR tweet using the formulation "behind a child". Palumbo's and Sweet's mention of Martin Richard seem to be their personal interpretation of "a child", as it is unlikely that WBUR would have dropped the name of the child. A follow-up tweet of WBUR confirms this conclusion:

Unclear whether Bruck means a video of Tsarnaev dropping backpack behind a child, or a video of him dropping the pack at all. (WBUR)

Apart from corroborating the neutral formulation "a child" this tweet already hints to the countless misinterpretations of Bruck's remark in both mainstream and independent media: that Bruck said that there is no video with Dzhokhar dropping the backpack at all. The most prominent author who has fallen into this trap is Marsha Gessen in the Washington Post:
But now an even more difficult question has been raised: What if jurors never see this video? What if there is, in fact, no video? That’s just what defense attorney David Bruck said Monday during a hearing on final pretrial motions: The video doesn’t exist.

If it existed, prosecutors would use it as evidence. If they were going to do that, they would have had to turn it over to the defense a long time ago. Apparently, they have not.

That may not be good news for the defense. How is it going to counter the effects of something that the jurors aren’t even aware of remembering — or, rather, misremembering?

Don't worry, Marsha. There is a video, it has been thoroughly described by the FBI in the criminal complaint, it has been provided to the defense in May 2013 (though it is unclear if the defense was able to see it at this point due to encryption issues), the place of the camera it was made from has been determined (see my last two blog entries), and the FBI even published stills from it on its website. It is conveniently called the Forum video.

Gessen's (and other's) misunderstanding neglects the logical context in Bruck's wording: there is no video with Dzhokhar placing his backpack behind a child. This leaves plenty of room for a video with Dzhokhar dropping his backpack without a child being nearby. Note that Bruck doesn't say that he has not seen such a video; he categorically states that such a video doesn't exist. This rock-solid confidence certainly arises from Bruck's knowledge of one (or more) surveillance videos: he knows that there is no child near Dzhokhar's bag.

The public has been deceived on a big scale by a faked photograph with Martin Richard standing on a metal barrier and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in the background (the title picture is cut out from it). The deception has been fueled by FBI agents Rick DesLauriers and Stephanie Douglas in a CBS News documentary aired on March 23, 2014. Scott Pelley, the anchorman, claims that the photo is a still from the incriminating video. This claim is not challenged by DesLauriers or Douglas, de facto affirming its alleged authenticity.

Moreover, Douglas must have known that the photo is not a still from the Forum video. She says that people in front of the Forum turned their heads left when the first blast occured - which means that the video must have been recorded from a camera back at the building. But the faked Martin Richard "still" has been shot from across the street. Stephanie Douglas should be given an opportunity to explain this contradiction.

Likewise, when examining the fake photo in the documentary, DesLauriers doesn't mention with one word that it can't be a still from the Forum video because the direction doesn't match. Like Douglas, he should achieve an opportunity to clear up this discrepancy.

Bruck's chess move is a well-considered little bombshell to put the spotlight onto the Forum video, which is meant to be the primary evidence for Dzhokhar being the second bomber. It also implicitly threatens to hold DesLauriers and Douglas accountable for verifying the not-existing genuineness of the faked Martin Richard photo, presumably at court, in front of the jury.

So what about Martin Richard? Is he visible on the Forum video at all? The place where Dzhokhar dropped his backpack can easily be deduced from the two stills I pictured above. It must have been at the metal barriers, in the middle between the mailbox and the tree. Remarkably, this is exactly the place where Stephanie Douglas locates the backpack in the faked Martin Richard photo. But as argued before, Douglas and DesLauriers have compromised themselves. We can therefore rely on Bruck's confidence and conclude that Martin Richard was not at the place where he's supposed to be in the fake photo, and that the Forum video will reveal that fact.

There's still a small possibility that Martin Richard is visible in the Forum video, but at another place, in a bigger distance to the bag. But given that (as I have outlined here) there is not one single photo showing him in the aftermath of the blast, the presumption that he was not at the second bomb site at all gets a big boost by Bruck's bombshell.

Many thanks to Pattie Sirois for providing the tweets.

APPENDIX - transcript of the accounts of FBI agents Rick DesLauriers and Stephanie Douglas on "60 minutes"

Pelley: Was there a "Eureka" moment in terms of the videos - would at some point someone say: "Hey Boss, have a look at this!"?

DesLauriers: Yes there was. It was, I believe, Wednesday morning. We watched that video hundreds and hundreds of times.

Douglas: You can see an individual, a tall man wearing a white cap, walking to the frame. He has a backpack slung over one of his shoulders. He puts the backpack down very nonchalantly, he joins the crowd. You clearly see everybody look very very definitely to the left like they've heard something, they've seen something, so you know that first blast is going off. He does not do that. He does not do what everyone else in that video does. He does not turn to his left ((turns her head to her left)). He instead just stands there for a second or two and walks very deliberately back the same direction that he came in.

Pelley (from off): The Eureka video hasn't been seen by the public, it is been kept for the trial. But this still photo ((showing faked Martin Richard photo)) shows much the same view of the suspect and the people who would be torn apart by the blast.

Pelley: Let me ask you to describe what you see in that picture.

DesLauriers ((hesitating, nearly crying)): I see the subject, the individual being charged in the investigation. I see people who were grievously injured in that blast, and I see individuals who died in that blast.

Pelley: The people along the fence line there.

DesLauriers: Several of them, yes. Very, very emotional times when I look at that to know what happened a few moments afterwards.

Douglas: I believe I see his backpack on the ground and then I see one of the people that were killed as a result of that bomb ((Martin Richard is spotlighted in the faked photo)).

Pelley: Do you know the name?

Douglas: It's Martin Richard.