AP: Police describe battling marathon bombers in escape attempt


The Boston Bombing suspect Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev. (FBI/MCT)

Denise Lavoie, AP

BOSTON — Three police officers on Monday described an onslaught of gunfire and bombs thrown during a violent confrontation with the Boston Marathon bombers days after the deadly attack and one suspect’s furious escape in a stolen car that ended with him dragging his brother’s body through the street.

The testimony by Watertown officers came hours after jurors in the federal death penalty trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev went to see the bullet-ridden boat he was found hiding in the evening of April 19, 2013.

Earlier that day, shortly after midnight, one officer spotted a carjacked Mercedes SUV on a quiet residential street. That set off a frenzied clash in which Dzhokhar and his older brother, Tamerlan, hurled explosives at police, including two pipe bombs and one pressure-cooker bomb similar to those used near the marathon finish line that killed 3 people and injured more than 260 others, the officers testified.

Joseph Reynolds, the first officer at the scene, said he “locked eyes” with the SUV driver, who was later identified as Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Reynolds said Tamerlan got out of the car and began firing at him.

“All I could see was muzzle flashes,” he said. “I couldn’t count it. It was nonstop.”

The shots continued as other officers began to arrive, Reynolds said.

He saw a wick and a lighter and then watched as an object flew through the air, landed in the street and exploded, he said, shaking him to his knees.

“I could feel all the debris landing on top of me,” he said.

Sgt. Jeffrey Pugliese said he cut through backyards to get closer to the bombers, and he eventually could see their feet illuminated by car headlights. He said he aimed at the ground near their feet in the hope that the bullets would ricochet into their ankles.

But Tamerlan saw him and came charging up the street, firing at him, said Pugliese, who fired back.

The two men came face to face, with only 6 to 8 feet separating them, Pugliese said. But Tamerlan had a problem with his pistol, the officer said.

“He kind of looked at his gun. He looked at me. We looked at each other,” Pugliese said. “I think out of frustration, he threw his gun at me.”

Pugliese said Tamerlan began to run away, but he tackled him. Tamerlan struggled as three officers tried to handcuff him, even though he was wounded and bleeding, Pugliese said.

That’s when they saw the stolen car speeding toward them with Dzhokhar behind the wheel, Pugliese said.

The officer stepped out of the witness box to demonstrate how he tried to pull Tamerlan out of the way and how he rolled over to get himself out of the car’s path.

“The black SUV, it was right in my face,” he said. “I looked down, and I saw the front wheels were over Tamerlan.”

Dzhokhar ran over his brother and dragged his body 25 to 30 feet, Pugliese said. He also struck a police car before he made his escape. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died of gunshot wounds and the injuries he received when being hit by the car.

After a massive manhunt and door-to-door search, Dzhokhar was found hiding in a boat parked in a backyard in Watertown.

A transit police officer at the shootout was gravely wounded and nearly bled to death. Dr. Heather Studley, an emergency room doctor, testified that Officer Richard Donohue was “essentially dead” when he arrived at the hospital.

Donahue had a gunshot wound to the groin and had lost nearly all the blood in his body on the street in Watertown, Studley said.

Studley said doctors brought Donohue back by giving him large infusions of blood quickly, installing a breathing tube and giving him epinephrine.

Earlier Monday, jurors went to see the boat, which was brought to a location in South Boston. The Associated Press was one of two news organizations and three courtroom sketch artists allowed to see the boat and provide pool coverage for the media.

The 18 jurors walked around the outside of the boat and peered inside, while Tsarnaev, flanked by three attorneys and U.S. marshals, watched impassively from a table about 50 feet away. As a defendant, Tsarnaev had a right to be present at the viewing.

The red and white boat is covered with more than 100 bullet holes marked individually with small pieces of white evidence tape. One of the boat’s two front widows is shot out almost completely.

Jurors took notes and then went two at a time onto a lift to look inside the vessel, which was on a trailer parked on a flatbed.

Inside the boat, they could see the note Tsarnaev wrote denouncing the U.S. for its wars in Muslim countries.

The note, written in pencil, is speckled with bullet holes and stained with blood, though the writing was barely visible.

Prosecutors said Tsarnaev carved another portion of the note into wood slats on the boat. It wasn’t visible Monday but is expected to be shown to the jury later.

The judge ruled that the location of the boat could not be revealed to ensure the security of jurors and the defendant. The owner of the boat is expected to testify Tuesday.

Tsarnaev’s lawyer admitted during opening statements that he participated in the bombings and the later crimes but said Tamerlan was the mastermind who recruited the then 19-year-old Dzhokhar to help him.

Prosecutors say Tsarnaev was a full and willing participant. Now 21, he faces the possibility of the death penalty if convicted.

The same jury that decides guilt will decide whether he receives life in prison or the death penalty.

Denise Lavoie is a Legal Affairs Writer for AP.