Federal prosecutors on Monday charged the younger of two brothers at the center of the Boston Marathon bombing case with using a weapon of mass destruction with intent to kill.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, was charged in his room at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where he was listed in serious but stable condition. He is unable to speak because of a gunshot wound to the throat that evidently occurred when police approached a boat Friday night where he had been hiding following a standoff with police Thursday in which his brother, Tamerlan, 26, died.
The charges carry the death penalty or a prison sentence of up to life.
U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz, whose Boston office will prosecute the case, said in a statement: “Today’s charges are the culmination of extraordinary law enforcement coordination and the tireless efforts of so many, including ordinary citizens who became heroes as they responded to the call for help in the hours and days following the Marathon tragedy.”
Ortiz, the first Hispanic and woman to be appointed U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts, is known as a tough prosecutor whose aggressive style has drawn controversy.
“The impact of these crimes has been far-reaching, affecting a worldwide community that is looking for peace and justice," Ortiz said. "We hope that this prosecution will bring some small measure of comfort both to the public at large and to the victims and their families that justice will be served.”
Tsarnaev was accused by federal prosecutors of joining with his older brother to set off the two pressure-cooker bombs that sprayed shrapnel into the crowd at the finish line last Monday, killing three people and wounding more than 180.
The criminal complaint containing the charges shed no light on the motive for the attack.
"Although our investigation is ongoing, today's charges bring a successful end to a tragic week for the city of Boston and for our country," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.
"He has what's coming to him," a wounded Kaitlynn Cates said from her hospital room. She was at the finish line when the first blast knocked her off her feet, and she suffered an injury to her lower leg.
In outlining the evidence against him in court papers, the FBI said Tsarnaev was seen on surveillance cameras putting a knapsack down on the ground near the site of the second blast and then manipulating a cellphone and lifting it to his ear.
Seconds later, the first explosion went off about a block down the street and spread fear and confusion through the crowd. But Tsarnaev — unlike nearly everyone around him — looked calm and quickly walked away, the FBI said.
Just 10 seconds or so later, the second blast occurred where he had left the knapsack, the FBI said.
The FBI did not make it clear whether authorities believe he used his cellphone to detonate one or both of the bombs or whether he was talking to someone.
The court papers also said that during the long night of crime Thursday and Friday that led to the older brother's death and the younger one's capture, one of the Tsarnaev brothers told a carjacking victim: "Did you hear about the Boston explosion? I did that."
The brothers are ethnic Chechens from Russia who have lived in the U.S. for about a decade. Investigators are focusing on a trip the older brother made last year to Chechnya and Dagestan, in a region of Russia that has become a hotbed of separatist politics and Islamic extremism.
Tsarnaev was charged with using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction against persons and property, resulting in death. He is also likely to face state charges in connection with the shooting death of an MIT police officer.
The Obama administration said it had no choice but to prosecute Tsarnaev in the federal court system. Some politicians had suggested he be tried as an enemy combatant in front of a military tribunal, where defendants are denied some of the usual U.S. constitutional protections.
But Tsarnaev is a naturalized U.S. citizen, and under U.S. law, American citizens cannot be tried by military tribunals, White House spokesman Jay Carney said. Carney said that since 9/11, the federal court system has been used to convict and imprison hundreds of terrorists.
Ortiz, whose parents were born in Puerto Rico, graduated from Adelphi University and got her law degree at Washington University before becoming U.S. Attorney in 2009.
Late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy and then-Sen. John Kerry, who is now Secretary of State, pushed for President Obama to nominate Ortiz to the job, saying of the many candidates they vetted for the post, she was the “standout.”
“She has lived the American Dream,” they said in a statement at the time, “worked hard for every accomplishment she’s achieved, and will ensure that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Massachusetts is a leader in our community and around the country.”
She same under fire over her office's aggressive prosecution of Internet activist Aaron Swartz, who made national headlines in January when he committed suicide. Many supporters of Swartz blamed his suicide on what they saw as the overzealous pursuit of prosecutors in his case.
In 2004, a federal appeals court in 2004 admonished Ortiz for advocating a harsher jail term for a defendant than she had promised him in a plea-bargain agreement.
Ortiz’s name occasionally has surfaced as a possible candidate someday for governor or Congress. But Ortiz has downplayed it, said that for now she enjoys being U.S. Attorney.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.