BOSTON (Reuters) - The accused Boston Marathon bombers tossed bombs and fired a pistol at police in their final hours on the run before a dazed and wounded Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found hiding in a drydocked boat and arrested, witnesses testified on Monday.
Tsarnaev, 21, is accused of killing three people and wounding 264 with a pair of homemade bombs at the race’s crowded finish line on April 15, 2013, and of fatally shooting a police officer three nights later, setting off a fierce gunfight with police and daylong manhunt through the suburb of Watertown.
Police and civilian witnesses at his trial on Monday recalled the ferocity of that final gunfight, when Tsarnaev and his older brother used a bomb similar to the ones made from pressure cookers they set off at the race.
Defense attorneys opened his case early this month by bluntly admitting the younger Tsarnaev committed all the crimes he is charged with, but attempted to paint his 26-year-old brother, Tamerlan, as the driving force behind the attacks.
Shifting some of the responsibility to Tamerlan, who died after Dzhokhar ran him over at the end of the gunfight, could convince the jury to sentence the surviving brother to life in prison without possibility of parole rather than death, defense attorneys contend.
One man who lived on the block where the Tsarnaevs fought with police testified that he was sleeping in the living room of his home with his 3-week-old son when he was awakened by gunshots.
“I looked outside and I could see guns firing,” the man, James Foley, testified at U.S. District Court in Boston. “I didn’t look for long. I saw that it was pretty serious and I wanted to get my kid back upstairs to the back of his house.”
Three Watertown Police officers described the gunfight, and the moment that one of the Tsarnaevs hurled a large bomb at them.
“It was horrendous. Very loud. I had to reholster my weapon to be able to straighten my head to be able to see,” said Sergeant John MacLellan. “A lot of debris, debris raining down, ... car alarms going off, people screaming.”
Watertown Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese described tackling Tamerlan Tsarnaev after the suspect appeared to have run out of ammunition and struggling to handcuff him when a fellow officer screamed that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was speeding towards them in a black Mercedes the brothers had carjacked hours earlier.
“I reached down and I grabbed Tamerlan by the back of the belt. I was trying to drag him out of the street to prevent him from being struck,” Pugliese said. “I looked to the right and the headlight was almost there.”
He rolled out of the way but Tamerlan was run over, his body pulled into the wheelwell and dragged for about 20 feet (6 meters). After Tamerlan, a trained martial artist, was thrown free, he continued to wrestle with Pugliese and another officer.
Tamerlan died later that day.
The jury saw photos taken during the gun battle, showing the Tsarnaevs crouching in front of the Mercedes during the gunfight on a street tightly packed with houses.
After Dzhokhar drove off, he ditched the car and hid in the drydocked boat.
The jury began its day Monday by visiting that boat, where Tsarnaev had left a note suggesting the attack was an act of retribution for U.S. military campaigns in Muslim-dominated countries.
The boat, held at an undisclosed location and viewed by two pool reporters from the Associated Press and WBUR radio, bore at least 110 bullet holes on all sides from the immense volley of gunfire that had surrounded Tsarnaev’s arrest.
The jury has heard from 58 witnesses in the trial’s seven days of testimony, and the prosecution appears to be nearing the end of its case. After prosecutors wrap up, defense attorneys will have the chance to call their own witnesses, who could include Tsarnaev.
After the jury decides his guilt, the trial will enter a second phase with more testimony before the same jury rules on whether to sentence him to death.
The bombing killed restaurant manager Krystle Campbell, 29, and graduate student Lingzi Lu, 23, as well as 8-year-old Martin Richard. Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier, 27, was shot dead three days later.
Hundreds of thousands of Boston-area residents were ordered to shelter in their homes on April 19 during the manhunt. The final witness of the day, Major Francis Hughes of the Massachusetts Stat police, recalled how Tsarnaev was found only after the shelter in place order was lifted and a homeowner saw something suspicious in his boat.
He recalled seeing Tsarnaev carried off: “He was on a stretcher and he went directly by me.”
Editing by Bernadette Baum and Richard Chang