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Thirty Counts Against Tsarnaev: What Do the Different Counts Mean? Part 1: The Bombing.

With the jury selection process finally completed, the long-awaited trial of the alleged Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is ready to begin. Attorneys on both sides are set to give their opening statements to the jury on Wednesday. The Boston Marathon attacks have galvanized the community, who will be closely watching the federal criminal trial. Tsarnaev faces a thirty count indictment, a number of which include the possibility of the death penalty.

In order to gain a conviction on each of the charged counts, a prosecutor bears the burden of proving the elements of each count "beyond a reasonable doubt" in the mind of a reasonable person, that the defendant is guilty. However, it may be confusing how the bombing and related incidents can result in 30 criminal counts. In this three-part blog posting, we will look at the individual criminal counts charged against Tsarnaev, and what they mean, including multiple counts for different bombs, who was injured or killed, the involvement of a firearm, and the crime of conspiracy.

The thirty counts can be divided by two separate, but related incidents. The first 15 counts relate to allegations that Tsarnaev conspired to, and did detonate the pressure cooker bombs in a public place, namely the Boston Marathon finish line area, which resulted in the deaths of three people. The remaining 15 counts relate to the the actions of the alleged bombers on April 18th and 19th, after images of the suspects were circulated, including the MIT shooting, carjacking, and shootout with the police.

Counts 1-15: Two Pressure Cooker Bombs and Deaths of Three People

Counts 1 through 15 involve two of the pressure cooker bombs and the deaths of the three people who died on April 15, 2013 near the Boston Marathon finish line. These charges involve three underlying criminal violations:

  • Use of a Weapon of Mass Destruction Resulting in Death;

  • Bombing of a Place of Public Use Resulting in Death; and

  • Malicious Destruction of Property Resulting in Personal Injury and Death.

These violations are numbered 18 U.S.C. § 2332a; 18 U.S.C. § 2332f; and 18 U.S.C. § 844, respectively.

All of these criminal violations surround allegations of Tsarnaev's involvement in placing thetwo pressure cooker style bombs in the area of the finish line. While each violation has different elements and wording, the prosecution believes that the evidence of the case supports a finding of guilty for each of these violations. A weapon of mass destruction would include any destructive device such as an explosive or incendiary bomb, resulting in death. Bombing a public place involves delivery, placement, discharge or detonation of an explosive device in a place of public use. The malicious destruction count involves destruction by means of an explosion, which resulted in a person's death.

Each of these violations is charged twice, because the prosecutors have considered each of the two pressure cooker bombs as separate bombs, or weapons of mass destruction and each is attributed to the deaths of separate victims. Pressure Cooker Bomb #1 (Counts 2, 7 and 12) is attributed to the death of Krystal Marie Campbell. Pressure Cooker Bomb #2 (Counts 4, 9 and 14) is attributed to the deaths of Lingzi Lu and Martin Richard, the eight-year-old boy killed in the bombings.

Accompanying each of these violations are charges of conspiracy (Counts 1, 6 and 11). Conspiracy is a crime separate from the actual criminal violation. Conspiracy involves two or more people agreeing to commit a crime, and take some overt action in furtherance of committing the crime. That means that a defendant can be found guilty of not only committing the crime, but can be guilty of the separate crime of agreeing with someone to commit the crime, and taking overt action.

In this case, it is alleged that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev conspired with his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev to commit the above violations, and Dzhokhar engaged in overt acts to further the conspiracy. However, the prosecutors are not treating each bomb as a separate conspiracy, but rather that the conspiracy was the bombing event. Therefore, there are three conspiracy charges, one attaching to each of the three above violations.

In addition, each of the above counts includes a count of possession and use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence resulting in death. (See 18 U.S.C. § 924c). Federal law treats the possession and use of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence as a separate criminal offense. Even though the bombings at the finish may not have involved alleged shooting of a gun, the "firearm" in question is considered to be the destructive device known as "Pressure Cooker Bombs #1 and #2."

In the next posting, we will look at the charges surrounding the subsequent attempted escape, MIT officer shooting, carjacking, and shootout with police.

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