(VIDEO) Testing the Government’s Timeline: From the Square One Mall to UMass Dartmouth

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The parking lot of the Macy’s at the Square One Mall in Saugus, MA. Photo taken August 10, 2016.

Last month, my father visited me in Boston so that we could do several case-related site visits. Among them was a test drive we’d been wanting to do for quite some time: measuring the actual distance between the greater Boston area and University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Dzhokhar’s college campus.

At trial, the prosecution made several assertions about Dzhokhar’s whereabouts in the months leading up to the April 15th bombing at the Boston Marathon. Many of these claims would have required him to, on a dime, drive north from UMass Dartmouth to Boston, as if the two locations are situated nearby one another. As I’ve discussed in a previous post (see subsection: “Dzhokhar’s January”), this is simply not true. The distance between the two locations is significant enough that driving it on a regular basis would have been a noticeable inconvenience, a fact that was never addressed at trial.

Dad and I were particularly interested in one claim by the prosecution, although I urge you to consider our findings any time it is argued Dzhokhar left campus to participate in the bombing conspiracy. This one was especially egregious: it asserted that on January 31, 2013, Dzhokhar was present at the Square One Mall in Saugus, MA to buy the pressure cookers used in the bombing. The purchase was made at 8:38 p.m. according to a receipt found among Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s belongings, and GPS data recovered from a Tsarnaev family device put a car — it is never specified which — in motion at 8:42. This is after January 22nd, when I established via Dzhokhar’s Twitter that he had returned to campus for his spring semester. In order to make the trip, he would have had to leave UMass Dartmouth and drive north about 70 miles, past Boston and Cambridge to Saugus. This is theoretically possible, as the defense offered evidence Dzhokhar bought dinner near campus at 6:54 p.m., giving him about a 1.5 hour window. However, the return trip dips into the fantasy realm, because they also offered evidence that Dzhokhar sent a text at 9:03 p.m. in the UMass Dartmouth area. On cross-examination of the defense’s witness Gerald Grant, a computer forensics analyst, prosecutor Aloke Chakravarty’s attempt to counter this is dubious at best:

Q. So the distance between Saugus and Dartmouth at about 7 or 8 p.m. on January 31st is less than an hour, isn’t it?
A. I do not know that, but I would have to refer to you on that. (51)

It’s hardly surprising that Mr. Grant doesn’t know the distances involved, being from upstate New York, as he states at the beginning of his testimony (4-5). However, I did know the distances involved, and the idea that Dzhokhar could drive from north of Boston to UMass Dartmouth in less than half an hour was simply ludicrous to me, regardless of the time of day. This is what led Dad and me to make the trip ourselves, from outside Macy’s at the Square One Mall to the UMass Dartmouth dorms. Instead of just writing about the experience, I took the opportunity to record portions of the trip on my cell phone, so that you could observe the evidence for yourself in real time. See the Youtube video embedded below.

Also, a warning: I’m a much better writer than I am a filmmaker, but I hope the video illustrates the routes that are involved here.

Note 1: In the video, I mistakenly identify the Wendy’s where Dzhokhar bought dinner that night as being on the UMass Dartmouth campus. In actuality, it’s off campus and in town, but they are so close together it’s a 4 minute drive, so it’s not like he ventured out very far. According to testimony, Dzhokhar paid with a meal plan card, hence my assumption before I saw the layout of campus.

Note 2: When I recorded this, I was working off the transcript of defense witness Gerald Grant. In that transcript, defense attorney Tim Watkins references two pressure cookers being bought at the Macy’s on January 31st, which is what I say in the video. However, upon further inspection, I noticed that on cross, Mr. Chakravarty only mentions one. Whether or not this is significant or simply a slip of the tongue for either party I’m not sure, but I’m planning to look into it further. It may link up with my research in a future post.

Thanks, as always, for reading (and watching). More to come soon.


Works Cited

United States District Court, District of Massachusetts. “United States of America v. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: Testimony of Gerald R. Grant, Jr.” Excerpt of Jury Trial – Day Forty-One. 30 March 2015. PDF.

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6 thoughts on “(VIDEO) Testing the Government’s Timeline: From the Square One Mall to UMass Dartmouth

  1. Thank you Heather and father for this investigative work. You have become so vital for this case and I thank God for your presence on this earth. I will soon send you more unsealed court documents. Should be sometime this week. But unfortunately quite a lot of documents will remain sealed and some relates to the fight about discoveries.

    I am convinced more than ever that there is a higher force than us that keeps us stuck on this case until the real truth is known to all.

    Sending you hugs and kisses.

    1. Josée, thank you so much for your response. It’s the support of people like you who keep me going in what is going to be a long fight, for sure. But I am confident one day we will figure it out and the injustices will be righted.

  2. I so appreciate what you and your Dad are doing and trying to do.
    If you were buying pressure cookers to create bombs for a major crime, would you use a credit or debit card and would you drive all the way to the Saugus mall to buy them from a Macy’s or would you go to a nearby Walmart or whatever and pay with cash? (The prosecution told some wild and crazy stories!)
    Maybe you will eventually come to the point where you will want to try to find out how easy it would be for the FBI/DHS/CIA or anyone with the right know-how and equipment to hack technologies such as a GPS, create false receipts after the fact, duplicate fingerprints and place them where you want them, and things like this.

    1. Thank you for the kind words. I agree that the general purchase pattern of the materials that were presented at trial reflected someone in the Boston area more accurately than someone in the southern portion of the state. The UMass Dartmouth area is practically on the Cape, and the closest big city is actually Providence, RI, not Boston. I would find purchases in Providence more likely than ones north of Boston or even into New Hampshire, as were presented.

      While I’m sure it’s possible for government agencies to mock up something like that, at the moment, especially in the interest of producing information that could one day be used in court, I have to adhere to a rigorous scientific standard. Part of that involves Occam’s razor: https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occam%27s_razor. I have to keep to the simpler solution if the evidence is sound. However, if the simpler solutions stop making sense, I will certainly report it (as was the case with Stephen Silva’s inconsistent testimony).

  3. Great post Heather!! You’ve done more actual investigating than the prosecution or the defense. If only you and your father had been Dzhokhar’s lawyers, he would likely be free right now. Way to go!! We knew the whole pressure cooker story was false especially pertaining to Dzhokhar, and now we have the proof!
    It was such a nice surprise after all our communicating to hear your voice and your father’s voice. I will send this post to Dzhokhar’s lawyers and also to his family, and others. Thank you both so much!

    1. Thank you, Julie. Your compliments mean so much to me. I thought a slight variation in format might be a nice change of pace. I don’t think I have the chops to do too much else in the film realm right now, but I hope it served its purpose in this instance. 🙂

      My father and I are working on much more, including a third part to the Sean Collier series, so stay tuned.

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