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Tsarnaev Pleads Not Guilty To Boston Marathon Bombing

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

I'm Robert Siegel.

And we have news of two closely watched court cases today: in Massachusetts, the arraignment of Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and in Florida, the trial of the man accused of murdering unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin. We head to Boston first.

CORNISH: The federal court there was packed with victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. The 19-year-old suspect was arraigned on a 30-count indictment. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev pleaded not guilty to having planned and executed the attack. It was his first public appearance since he was arrested in April when he was found hiding in a boat in Watertown.

NPR's Tovia Smith, who was at the courthouse this afternoon, joins us now. And, Tovia, as we said, this is the public's first look at this young man. Tell us what you saw in court.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Well, it was a very routine hearing in a case that is, of course, anything but routine. We saw Tsarnaev brought in in an orange jumpsuit and a black T-shirt underneath. He had long, shaggy hair. He had one arm in a cast. It looked like his jaw was somewhat disfigured and uncomfortable and he kept touching it and moving his mouth around. And he looked like he had an injury to one of his eyes as well.

He was extremely fidgety, especially at one point when the judge noted for the record that there were 30 people in the courtroom who were victims or victims' relatives. And Tsarnaev was fidgeting, and that was one of several points where his lawyer put her hand on his back and gave him a kind of pat. Then the judge magistrate asked him how he pled, and when he went to answer, his lawyer jumped in and said that he was advised to plead not guilty to all counts.

But the judge insisted that Tsarnaev himself respond, so he repeated not guilty seven times in a distinct accent - a loud voice first, and then less so - to the various groups of charges. And just seven minutes after he was brought in, he was handcuffed and let out by the U.S. marshals to return to his prison hospital.

CORNISH: And how tight was security?

SMITH: Oh, it was already tight. This is the same federal court building where reputed mobster James "Whitey" Bulger is also on trial. But it was jacked up even more today: state police, Homeland Security, bomb-sniffing dogs. Tsarnaev was brought in in a massive motorcade of Humvees, all kinds of heavily armed law enforcement officers. So to say that it was tight would be an understatement.

CORNISH: And yet there were 30 victims and relatives there. There was a long line to get into the courtroom. Were members of the public also in the courtroom?

SMITH: A few. They waited in line from about 7:30 this morning. There were going to be 20 seats allowed for the public. It was first come, first serve. And I know that of those 20, four to five told me that they were - at least that many - they were supporters of Tsarnaev. They believe he was innocent. He was being set up. They said they wanted to show support for him. In fact, they rallied outside before the hearing.

And as you can imagine, the fact that they were the ones who got in did not go over well with those who were shut out, like one man who I spoke to who ran the marathon and just missed the blast, he says, by 12 seconds. He was waiting in line. He says he wanted to stare Tsarnaev down and show him, as he put it, that the city was stronger than any damage that, as he put it, Tsarnaev and his twisted brother could cause. So he was pretty upset.

CORNISH: Now, Tsarnaev pleaded not guilty. Does this mean that this is headed for trial?

SMITH: Maybe. This was a formality today. There's still a possibility of a plea deal. Seventeen of the 30 counts could expose Tsarnaev to the death penalty. That will be up to the U.S. attorney general to decide.

There is an expectation that the government will seek the death penalty, but also the possibility that Tsarnaev will try and cut a deal and plead guilty in exchange for his life, and he would, in that scenario, serve life in prison.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Tovia Smith in Boston. Tovia, thank you.

SMITH: Thanks, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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