Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the alleged Boston Marathon bomber, made his first public appearance since the April 15 attack Wednesday in a federal court room and pleaded not guilty to a sweeping terrorism indictment that carries the possibility of the death penalty.
With 30 bombing victims in the courtroom, some wearing the Boston Marathon gear, Tsarnaev entered “not guilty” pleas in a thick accent seven times to groups of charges including using a weapon of mass destruction.
His attorney, Judy Clarke, sought to enter the pleas on his behalf, but US Magistrate Judge Marianne B. Bowler ordered Tsarnaev to answer himself. The judge also indicated that any victims had the opportunity to speak at the brief hearing, but no one did.
Seeming indifferent to the proceedings, Tsarnaev wore an orange prison jumpsuit with the top unbuttoned, and a black T-shirt underneath. His hair was shaggy, consistent with the photos that were released at the time of the bombings.
His face appeared distorted at times as he fidgeted in his seat. There was a visible scar just below his throat, possibly the result of being shot by police, and he was wearing what appeared to be a cast on his left arm.
Tsarnaev became attentive when he looked toward two women sitting in the courtroom, one of whom was weeping while the other held a small child, during the seven minute hearing. As he was being escorted out of the courtroom with cuffs on his hands and feet, Tsarnaev blew a kiss towards the women.
In court, Assistant US Attorney William Weinreb read the charges out loud, saying “The maximum penalty is up to life in prison or the death penalty.”
Tsarnaev’s appearance was the first time he has been seen in public since he was captured April 19 hiding in a boat in the backyard of a Watertown home, an arrest that brought an end to a wave of terror that included the Marathon bombings, the murder of MIT Police Officer Sean Collier and the shutdown of Greater Boston as police sought the terror suspects.
MIT Police Chief John DiFava, who gave a stirring speech about Collier during an MIT memorial service, was blunt about his feelings toward Tsarnaev.
“I’d like to grab him by the throat,’’ said DiFava.
Boston Police Superintendent-in-Chief Daniel Linskey was more diplomatic. “It’s our system in motion,’’ he said. “The wheels are now turning.”
Liz Norden, a Wakefield mother with two sons who each lost a leg, was disturbed listening to the sobs of one of Tsarnaev’s sisters. “Hearing his sister cry made me angry,” she said outside the courtroom. “Look at what he caused. How dare they cry and look at what he did to all these people.”
Peter Brown, Norden’s sister, said that his nephews aren’t paying attention to what happens to Tsarnaev.
“One thing that isn’t happening is our boys aren’t focused on them,” Brown said. “This family continues to focus on the recovery of the boys. Our thoughts are with all the victims and the survivors.”
Seated in the courtroom were about a dozen people who had rallied outside the Joseph Moakley Courthouse today, insisting the man they call “Jahar’’ is wrongly accused of setting off two bombs on April 15, killing three people and wounding 260 others.
Members of the high school wrestling team Tsarnaev captained during his senior year at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School were also on hand.
The brief arraignment closed a chaotic day at the courthouse in which scores of people rushed for a glimpse of the teenaged suspect. Tsarnaev had been escorted earlier Wednesday by a Humvee filled with heavily armed law enforcement officers in a white prison van that rushed past about a dozen people who shouted encouragement to the alleged Islamic terrorist.
Some of the supporters started chanting — “Justice for Dzhokhar’’ and “Give him his freedom back’’ — as the motorcade took Tsarnaev into the courthouse.
Tsarnaev, a former University of Massachusetts Dartmouth student, is due back in court Sept. 23.
His older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev , the alleged mastermind of the bombings, died after the confrontation with police in Watertown.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is charged with use of a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death and the bombing of a place of public use resulting in death. Authorities allege that the 19-year-old was inspired by Al Qaeda publications and that he left a confession in the boat justifying the bombings as payback for US military action in Muslim countries.
Seventeen of the charges carry the possibility of the death penalty, which hasn’t been applied in Massachusetts in 66 years and has been banned here for state cases since 1984. But because Tsarnaev is charged under federal law, he could face death for his alleged crimes.
The other charges against Tsarnaev carry the possibility of life in prison.
According to the indictment, released last month, Tsarnaev allegedly wrote a confession in the boat that acknowledged “it is forbidden” in Islam to kill innocent people. But prosecutors say he justified his actions because the “US government is killing our innocent civilians.”
“I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished,” he allegedly wrote. “We Muslims are one body; you hurt one, you hurt us all. Stop killing our innocent people, we will stop.”
The indictment alleges that sometime before the bombings, Tsarnaev downloaded extremist Islamic propaganda from the Internet, including material that directed Muslims against giving their allegiance to governments that invade Muslim lands and writings by Anwar al-Awlakicq, the American citizen who became a senior operative in Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen and who was killed in a 2011 drone strike.
At a press conference last month, US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said it would be up to US Attorney General Eric Holder whether to seek the death penalty.
The federal charges also include malicious destruction of property resulting in death, and conspiring to do those crimes, as well as use of a firearm during and in relation to a violent crime, and carjacking resulting in serious injury, federal prosecutors said.
Tsarnaev was hospitalized at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center after his capture on April 19.