Three years ago today, I wrote a blog post that changed my life. I was upset and scared about what I had seen in a federal courtroom the day before, worried about a young man I’d never properly met. Every news source told me his guilt was assured and the only question was whether he should die for it. Still, I had many doubts about the person I had glimpsed, who’d looked so overwhelmed and tired. I had no ideas about him beyond that, other than what I wrote at the time: I hope one day he can find some peace.
As many of you know, I started out as a fiction writer. I was used to writing stories I’d made up in my head; I wasn’t used to living them. I had no idea walking into that courtroom would mean I was walking into Dzhokhar’s story, for better or for worse. When I realized it after the fact, I knew I had to be the person who told his story as honestly as possible. He deserved that much. He deserved that and more, but the deck had been stacked against him.
Thanks to you, my readers, I’ve been able to tell Dzhokhar’s story how it should be told: not beholden to popular politics, nor an editor worried about the bottom line, but a straightforward, unflinching account based on the facts. While I’m happy American journalism has made a robust comeback in the Trump era, I’ve noticed that few writers have reached back and questioned events that happened under a different administration. Which is why, looking over my work thus far, I’m so grateful that I was able to build a platform directly to people curious about the case and the truth about Dzhokhar’s role in it.
In a special New Years installment, Heather and Tom tackle recent questions from readers and listeners. We discuss where Heather has been, prospects for Dzhokhar’s appeal, alternate theories of the case, rehabilitation for prisoners, implications of Dzhokhar’s sentencing statement, our hopes for the case going into 2018, and more.
This series has been almost two years in the making. At first, I intended the information and analysis in this and subsequent posts to make up the final installment of my work on the murder of Officer Sean Collier. However, once I found a thread and pulled, more and more unraveled, in oftentimes shocking and confusing ways. I realized the implications didn’t only effect the nature of the murder of Officer Collier, but the entire bombing case at large. So I decided to hold off reporting, keep investigating, and hope I could put it all together later.
The time for that is now. Since October of 2015 I have been collecting dozens of pieces, trying to assemble them into a bigger picture. Unfortunately, as anyone with an investigative nature may note, rarely are there smoking guns to be found — instead, there are a lot of little things that don’t add up. With the current evidence available about the case, I have found a number of these anomalies, and have been trying to use them to rethink the narrative of the entire Marathon bombing, from the events on Boylston Street on April 15, 2013, to the night of Sean Collier’s murder and the carjacking of Dun Meng three days later. What will follow today and in the coming installments is my attempt to reconstruct the story using the evidence I have, as well as my previous body of work as a foundation for how I came to these conclusions.
What is an alibi defense, and does Dzhokhar Tsarnaev have one in regards to the charges for which he was convicted? Attorney Tom Frizzell returns to break down trial transcripts and help Heather determine whether Dzhokhar was involved with gathering the bomb-making materials that were used in the Boston Marathon bombing. Despite what was reported in the media, the information on the record is far more exculpatory than one might expect.
In the final installment of our historical series, Eric Bowsfield joins Heather to talk about the history and evolution of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s home country, Chechnya. The region and its people have a fascinating but tragic past, facing centuries of violence and oppression at the hands of the Russian government. Together we navigate the hallmarks of imperialism, Russia’s conquest of the Caucasus, stereotypes of the Chechen ethnicity, and how all of this was used by the prosecutors against Dzhokhar at trial.
Eric Bowsfield returns to help Heather hash out the issue of Islamophobia and how it affected the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. We discuss the basics of Islam as a religion, the definition of Islamophobia, and the difference between Islamism and Jihadism. Then, we break down the academic career of Dr. Sebastian Gorka, a top aide to President Trump with a history of being an Islamophobe, an anti-Semite, a member of a pro-Nazi group — and an expert witness for the prosecution in Dzhokhar’s case.
Historian and fellow investigator Eric Bowsfield joins Heather to talk about historiography. We discuss how the discipline gives us the tools to study the Marathon Bombing and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s court case as a historical event. We also share our own firsthand knowledge of living through the bombing and the lockdown of Boston four days later, demonstrating how we ourselves are primary sources of these moments in history.