Tsarnaev was charged on April 22 with using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death and with malicious destruction of property resulting in death. Tsarnaev later said during questioning that they next intended to detonate explosives in Times Square in New York City. Tsarnaev reportedly also said to authorities that he and his brother were radicalized, at least in part, by watching Anwar al-Awlaki lectures. He was convicted on April 8, 2015 and sentenced to death on May 15, 2015.
He and his family had traveled to the United States on a tourist visa and subsequently claimed asylum during their stay in 2002. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen on September 11, 2012.
The Tsarnaev family was forcibly moved from Chechnya to the Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan in the years following World War II. His father, Anzor Tsarnaev, is a Chechen, and his mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, is an Avar. The couple had two sons, Tamerlan, born in the Kalmyk Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic in 1986, and Dzhokhar, born in Kyrgyzstan in 1993. The parents also have two daughters, Bella and Aliana. Anzor is a traditional Muslim who shuns religious extremism and raised his children as Muslims. According to some, other Chechen Americans in the area apparently did not consider the American branch of the family to be "fully" Chechen because they had never lived in Chechnya.
As children, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar lived in Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan. In 2001, the family moved to Makhachkala, Dagestan, in the Russian Federation. In April 2002, the Tsarnaev parents and Dzhokhar went to the United States on a 90-day tourist visa. Anzor Tsarnaev applied for asylum, citing fears of deadly persecution due to his ties to Chechnya.
Tamerlan was left in the care of his uncle Ruslan in Kyrgyzstan, and arrived in the U.S. around two years later. In the U.S. the parents received asylum and then filed for their four children, who received "derivative asylum status". They settled on Norfolk Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Tamerlan lived in Cambridge on Norfolk Street until his death.
The family "was in constant transition" for the next decade. Anzor and Zubeidat Tsarnaev both received welfare benefits. The father worked as a backyard mechanic and the mother worked as a cosmetologist until she lost her job for refusing to work in a business that served men. In March 2007, the family was granted legal permanent residence.
Tsarnaev was born in Kyrgyzstan. As a child, he emigrated with his family to Russia and then, when he was eight years old, to the United States under political asylum. The family settled in Cambridge and became U.S. permanent residents in March 2007. He became a U.S. citizen on September 11, 2012, while in college. His mother, Zubeidat, also became a U.S. citizen, but it is not clear if his father, Anzor, ever did. Tamerlan, his brother, was unable to naturalize expeditiously due to an investigation against him, which held up the citizenship process. At Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, a public high school, he was an avid wrestler, and a Greater Boston League winter all-star. He sometimes worked as a lifeguard at Harvard University.
In 2011, he contacted a professor at UMass Dartmouth who taught a class about Chechen history, expressing his interest in the topic. He graduated from high school in 2011 and the city of Cambridge awarded him a $2,500 scholarship that year. His brother's boxing coach, who had not seen them in a few years at the time of the bombings, said that "the young brother was like a puppy dog, following his older brother".
Tsarnaev enrolled in the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth in September 2011. He started with a marine biology major with the intent on becoming a dentist but later changed to nursing.
Tsarnaev was described as "normal" and popular among fellow students. His friends said he sometimes smoked marijuana, liked hip hop, and did not talk to them about politics. He volunteered in the Best Buddies program. Many friends and other acquaintances found it inconceivable that he could be one of the two bombers at first, calling it "completely out of his character". He was not perceived as foreign, spoke English well, easily fit in socially, and was described by peers as "[not] 'them'. He was 'us.' He was Cambridge".
On the Russian-language social-networking site VK, Tsarnaev described his "world view" as "Islam" and his personal priorities as "career and money". He posted links to Islamic websites, links to videos of fighters in the Syrian civil war, and links to pages advocating independence for Chechnya. Dzhokhar was also active on Twitter. According to The Economist, he seemed "to have been much more concerned with sport and cheeseburgers than with religion, at least judging by his Twitter feed"; however, according to The Boston Globe, on the day of the 2012 Boston Marathon, a year before the bombings, a post on Tsarnaev's Twitter feed mentioned a Quran verse often used by radical Muslim clerics and propagandists.
In 2012, Arlington Police ran a warrant check on Tsarnaev and checked his green Honda when they were investigating a report of underage drinking at a party in Arlington Heights.
At the time of the bombing, Tsarnaev was a sophomore living in the UMass Dartmouth's Pine Dale Hall dorm. He was struggling academically, having received seven failing grades over three semesters, including Fs in Principles of Modern Chemistry, Introduction to American Politics, and Chemistry and the Environment and had an unpaid bill of $20,000 to the university. He was known to be selling marijuana to make money.
A triple homicide was committed in Waltham, Massachusetts, on the evening of September 11, 2011. After the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, the case was reexamined, and authorities said the Tsarnaev brothers may have been responsible for the murders, that forensic evidence connected them to the scene of the killings, and that their cell phone records placed them in the area at the time of the killings. In May 2013, Ibragim Todashev, a 27-year-old Chechen native and former mixed martial arts fighter who knew Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was shot and killed in Orlando, Florida, by law enforcement officers who had been interviewing him about the Waltham murders as well as the bombings. The FBI has alleged that just before he was killed, Todashev made statements implicating both himself and Tamerlan Tsarnaev in the Waltham murders – saying that the initial crime was a drug robbery, and the murders were committed to prevent being identified by the victims.
Tsarnaev was convicted of participating in the Boston Marathon bombings that occurred on April 15, 2013, along with his brother Tamerlan. The motivation for the bombings was apparently religious in nature. He reportedly "told the FBI that [he and his brother] were angry about the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the killing of Muslims there."
That day, Dzhokhar was captured on CCTV near the finish line pushing his way through spectators towards the front carrying a duffel bag which contained one of two pressure cooker bombs that would detonate. Tsarnaev appeared to place the bag down without causing any suspicion amongst spectators and then appeared to watch some marathon runners cross the finish line before hurrying away moments before the bomb exploded, causing mass panic among spectators and marathon runners. Shortly after the second bomb exploded, CCTV captured both Tsarnaev brothers running among the crowd away from the scene.
CBS senior correspondent John Miller, who before joining CBS served in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, later reported Dzhokhar's handwritten note inside the boat where he lay bleeding stated, "The [Boston] bombings were in retribution for the U.S. crimes in places like Iraq and Afghanistan [and] that the victims of the Boston bombing were collateral damage, in the same way innocent victims have been collateral damage in U.S. wars around the world."
Tsarnaev continued to tweet after the bombings, and sent a tweet telling the people of Boston to "stay safe". He returned to his university after the April 15 bombing and remained there until April 18, when the FBI released pictures of him and Tamerlan at the marathon. During that time, he used the college gym and slept in his dorm; his friends said that he partied with them after the attacks and looked "relaxed".
Tsarnaev and his brother murdered MIT police officer Sean Collier on April 18 at the MIT campus in an unsuccessful attempt to steal his gun, before traveling to the Boston neighborhood of Allston. There, the brothers carjacked an SUV and robbed the owner. However, the owner of the car, said he managed to escape when the Tsarnaevs became momentarily distracted in the process of refueling the car at a cash-only gas station. The man, who would not give his name to the media but said he goes by the name "Danny," said he fled to another nearby gas station and contacted the police. Police were then able to track the location of the car through the man's cellphone and the SUV's anti-theft tracking device.
When police found the stolen SUV and a Honda being driven by the brothers in the early hours of April 19, the suspects engaged in a violent shootout with police in Watertown. During the gunfight, in which bombs were thrown at responding officers, Dzokhar Tsarnaev was wounded while Tamerlan was shot a number of times before being apprehended. Police say that Dzokhar escaped by driving the stolen SUV toward the officers who were arresting his brother. Although the officers managed to avoid being hit, Tsarnaev drove over Tamerlan, dragging him under the SUV about 30 feet (9 m) in the process (Tamerlan would later die at a nearby hospital). Tsarnaev reportedly sped off, but abandoned the car about 1⁄2 mile (800 m) away and then fled on foot. An unprecedented manhunt ensued involving thousands of police officers from several nearby towns as well as state police and FBI, and SWAT teams, who searched numerous homes and property inside a 10-block perimeter. Warrants were not issued, but residents reported they were told they must allow the searches to go forward. Many reported being instructed to leave their homes as well. Images of squad cars and large black armored vehicles crowding the sidestreets, and videos of residents being led out of their homes at gunpoint soon flooded social media. The Boston metro area was effectively shut down all day on April 19.
After Tsarnaev's name was published in connection with the bombings, his uncle Ruslan Tsarni, who lives in Montgomery Village, Maryland, pleaded with Tsarnaev through television to turn himself in "and ask for forgiveness", and said that he had shamed the family and the Chechen ethnicity.
During the manhunt for him on the evening of April 19, Tsarnaev was discovered wounded in a boat in a Watertown backyard, less than 1⁄4 mile (400 m) from where he abandoned the SUV. David Henneberry, the owner of the boat, had noticed that the cover on the boat was loose and when the "shelter in place" order was lifted, went outside to investigate. He lifted the tarpaulin, saw a bloodied man, retreated into his house and called 9-1-1. Three Boston police officers responded and were soon joined by other police. Tsarnaev's presence and movement was later verified through a forward looking infrared thermal imaging device in a State Police helicopter. The suspect was observed pushing up at the tarp on the boat and Boston police began a large volume of gunfire at the suspect, stopping only after calls from the Superintendent on the scene. After initial reports of a shootout between police and Tsarnaev, two U.S. officials said on April 24 that Dzhokhar was unarmed when captured.
Tsarnaev, who had been shot and was bleeding badly from wounds to his left ear, neck and thigh, was taken into federal custody after the standoff. Initial reports that the neck wound was from a self-inflicted gunshot from a possible suicide attempt were later contradicted by the revelation that he was unarmed at the time of capture and a description of the neck wound by SWAT team members that it was a slicing injury, possibly caused by shrapnel from an explosion.
In an image broadcast on the night of his arrest, he was shown stepping out of the boat in which he had been hiding. Other sources described him "lying on his stomach, straddling the side of the boat (…) His left arm and left leg hung over the boat’s side. He appeared to struggle for consciousness". Then he was "hauled down to the grassy ground" by a SWAT officer. In a photograph he can be seen lying on the ground on his back with his hands cuffed behind him, being helped by medical staff.
He was taken to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, where he was treated for severe injuries in the intensive-care unit. He was in serious but stable condition (updated to "fair" on April 23), and unable to speak because of the wound to his throat. According to one of the nurses, he had cried for two days straight after waking up. He responded to authorities in writing and by nodding his head, although he did manage to say the word "no" when asked if he could afford a lawyer. Court documents released in August 2013, show that Tsarnaev had a skull fracture and gunshot wounds prior to being taken into custody. According to a doctor that treated him, Tsarnaev had a skull-base fracture, with injuries to the middle ear, the skull base, the lateral portion of his C1 vertebra, with a significant soft tissue injury, as well as injury to the pharynx, the mouth, and a small vascular injury.
On April 26, Tsarnaev was transported by U.S. Marshals to the Federal Medical Center, Devens, a United States federal prison near Boston for male inmates requiring specialized or long-term medical or mental health care. He was held in solitary confinement at a segregated housing unit with 23-hour-per-day lockdown.
Tsarnaev was the subject of a cover story for an August 2013 issue of Rolling Stone entitled "The Bomber: How a Popular, Promising Student Was Failed by His Family and Became a Monster." The magazine drew large amounts of criticism for the flattering photo of Tsarnaev used for the issue's cover. Boston Mayor Tom Menino wrote that the cover "rewards a terrorist with celebrity treatment". Massachusetts State Police sergeant Sean Murphy stated that "glamorizing the face of terror is not just insulting to the family members of those killed in the line of duty, it also could be an incentive to those who may be unstable to do something to get their face on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine." The New York Times used the same photo on their front page in May 2013, but did not draw criticism. Rolling Stone columnist Matt Taibbi criticized those who took offense at the cover, arguing that their offense-taking was the result of their associating Rolling Stone with glamor instead of news, stating that The New York Times did not draw the criticism that Rolling Stone did, "because everyone knows the Times is a news organization. Not everyone knows that about Rolling Stone... because many people out there understandably do not know that Rolling Stone is also a hard-news publication."
The editors of Rolling Stone posted the following response:
Our hearts go out to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, and our thoughts are always with them and their families. The cover story we are publishing this week falls within the traditions of journalism and Rolling Stone
’s long-standing commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day. The fact that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is young, and in the same age group as many of our readers, makes it all the more important for us to examine the complexities of this issue and gain a more complete understanding of how a tragedy like this happens. –THE EDITORS
Hours after this happened, many retailers that sold the magazine, such as CVS Pharmacy, BJ's Wholesale Club (which additionally announced it will no longer sell any future Rolling Stone issues), and others, announced that they would no longer sell the issue.
In December 2013, the Rolling Stone Tsarnaev cover was named the "Hottest Cover Of The Year" by Adweek magazine, with newsstand sales doubling from 60,000 to 120,000. The photo on the cover was taken by Tsarnaev himself, not a professional studio photographer.
Initially, Tsarnaev was questioned without being read his Miranda rights, because the Justice Department invoked Miranda's public-safety exception. He was to be questioned by a federal High-Value Interrogation Group, a special counterterrorism group created to question high-value detainees, which included members of the FBI, CIA, and Department of Defense. Later, after being read his Miranda rights, Tsarnaev stopped talking and declined to continue to cooperate with the investigation.
Prosecutors initially argued for the public safety exception to be applied to the statements obtained before the Miranda rights were read. However, the exception was not considered by the court because the prosecutors later decided not to use any of that evidence in their case against Tsarnaev.
On April 22, he was charged with "using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death" and with "malicious destruction of properties resulting in death", both in connection with the Boston Marathon attacks. He was read his Miranda rights at his bedside by a federal magistrate of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, nodded his head to answer the judge's questions, and answered "no" when asked whether he could afford a lawyer.
Once convicted, he was eligible to face the death penalty. He was prosecuted by assistant U.S. attorneys William Weinreb and Aloke Chakravarty, of the Anti-Terrorism and National Security Unit of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Boston. His defense team includes federal public defender Miriam Conrad, William Fick and Judy Clarke.
Middlesex County prosecutors also brought criminal charges against Tsarnaev for the murder of Sean Collier. A surveillance camera at MIT captured the brothers approaching Collier's car from behind.
Officials said, after initial interrogations, that it was clear the attack was religiously motivated, but that so far there was no evidence that the brothers had any ties to Islamic terror organizations. Officials also said that Dzhokhar acknowledged his role in the bombings and told interrogators that he and Tamerlan were motivated by extremist Islamic beliefs and the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to carry out the bombing. Dzhokhar admitted during questioning that he and his brother were planning to detonate explosives in New York City's Times Square next. The brothers formed the plan spontaneously during the April 18 carjacking, but things went awry after the vehicle ran low on gas and they forced the driver to stop at a gas station, where he escaped. Dzhokhar says he was inspired by online videos from Anwar al-Awlaki, who also inspired Faisal Shahzad, the perpetrator of the 2010 Times Square car bombing attempt.
Investigators have so far found no evidence that Tsarnaev was involved in any jihadist activities, and, according to The Wall Street Journal, now believe that unlike his brother Tamerlan, Dzhokhar "was never truly radicalized." Examinations of his computers did not reveal frequent visits to jihad websites, expressions of violent Islamist rhetoric or other suspicious activities. Some law enforcement officials told the WSJ that Tsarnaev "better fit[s] the psychological profile of an ordinary criminal than a committed terrorist."
On May 16, 2013, during CBS This Morning, CBS News senior correspondent John Miller said he had been told that Tsarnaev wrote a note in the boat in which he was hiding and claimed responsibility for the April 15 attack during the marathon. The note was scribbled with a pen on one of the inside walls of the cabin and said the bombings were payback for the U.S. military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, and referred to the Boston victims as collateral damage, the same way Muslims have been in the American-led wars. He continued, "When you attack one Muslim, you attack all Muslims." He also said he did not mourn his brother's death because now Tamerlan was a martyr in paradise and that he (Dzhokhar) expected to join him in paradise. Miller's sources said the wall the note was written on had multiple bullet holes in it from the shots that were fired into the boat by police. According to Miller during the interview he gave on the morning show, he said that the note will be a significant piece of evidence in any Dzhokhar trial and that it is "certainly admissible," and paints a clear picture of the brothers' motive, "consistent with what he told investigators while he was in custody."
Tsarnaev's arraignment for 30 charges, including four for murder, occurred on July 10, 2013, in federal court in Boston before U.S. Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler. It was his first public court appearance. He pleaded not guilty to all 30 counts against him, which included using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death. Tsarnaev was represented by Miriam Conrad, David Bruck, William Fick, Timothy G. Watkins and Judy Clarke.
On January 30, 2014, United States Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the federal government would seek the death penalty against Tsarnaev. A plea deal failed when the government refused to rule out the possibility of the death penalty.
The trial began on January 5, 2015; Tsarnaev pleaded not guilty to all thirty charges laid against him. The proceedings were led by Judge George O'Toole. Tsarnaev's attorney Judy Clarke said in her opening statement "it was him... There's little that occurred the week of April the 15th... that we dispute." Counter terrorism expert Matthew Levitt also gave testimony.
On April 8, 2015, Tsarnaev was found guilty on all thirty counts of the indictment. The charges of usage of a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death, in addition to aiding and abetting, made Tsarnaev eligible for the death penalty.
Bill and Denise Richard, parents of the youngest of the three killed in the bombings, urged against a death sentence for Tsarnaev. They stated that the lengthy appeals period would force them to continually relive that day, and would rather see him spend life in prison without possibility of release.
Tsarnaev, who had been largely emotionless throughout his trial, appeared to weep when his relatives testified on May 4, 2015. On May 15, 2015, the jury recommended that Tsarnaev be sentenced to death by lethal injection on six of 17 capital counts.
According to the verdict forms completed by the jurors, three of 12 believed that Tsarnaev had taken part in the attack under his brother's influence; two believed that he had been remorseful for his actions; two believed that Tamerlan, not Dzhokhar, had shot dead Officer Collier; three believed that his friends still care about him; one believed that Tsarnaev's mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, was to be blamed for the brothers' actions; one believed that Tsarnaev would never be violent again in prison.
Massachusetts had ended the death penalty for state crimes in 1984. However, Tsarnaev, tried on federal charges, was eligible for execution.
Tsarnaev's lawyer, Judy Clarke, indicated two strong lines of likely appeal: that on prejudicial grounds the trial should never have been held in Boston; and that the defense was given insufficient time to mount a full argument in mitigation that might have convinced the jury to spare Tsarnaev's life. The appeal process could last years or decades.
On June 24, Tsarnaev faced his victims in court as his death sentence was formally imposed. Victims and their families were able to present impact statements to the court, and Tsarnaev, who had been silent throughout his month-long trial, apologized to the injured and the bereaved in the bombings.
The following morning, on June 25, Tsarnaev was transferred to the United States Penitentiary, Florence High in Colorado; as of July 17, he had been transferred to ADX Florence. A Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) spokesperson stated that "unique security management requirements" caused the agency to place Tsarnaev in Colorado instead of United States Penitentiary, Terre Haute, where male death-row inmates are normally held.
According to The Guardian, in June 2016, Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al Zawahri issued a threat to the United States if Tsarnaev would be harmed.