Accused Boston Marathon Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev wore an orange jumpsuit and a glazed expression to court yesterday, where he was arraigned on 30 hefty counts, including using weapons of mass destruction.
He pleaded "not guilty" to all of them.
Huh? Last time we saw Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, he had just been captured after scrawling confessions for the bombing on the side of the boat where he hid after his brother was killed. There's video of Tsarnaev placing backpacks filled with explosives at the finish line. So why plead not guilty?
We asked a lawyer: "If he pleads guilty, he has no leverage any more. This way, he has nothing to lose. If you plead guilty, then you're just guilty," Adam Schneider, an associate at a firm in Washington D.C., explained.
In short, Tsarnaev's initial strategy isn't much of a surprise. A plea of "not guilty" just puts the burden of proving the criminal charges against him on the prosecution, which gives him a chance to make his case through a trial by jury, or settle outside of court with a plea bargain. It buys him time and hope of a lighter sentence in exchange for a "guilty" plea later. Since trials are long, expensive, and often difficult for everyone involved, the defense probably hopes that they can negotiate a better plea deal for Tsarnaev later.
And the defense team needs to buy him a better offer—half of the charges against him could carry the death penalty. Tsarnaev's lawyers have a strong record of striking plea deals to help their clients avoid execution. As Slate's Josh Voorhees reminds us, San Diego-based defense attorney Judy Clarke's "legal resume includes the defenses of Susan Smith, who drowned her two children in 1994; the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski; Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph; and most recently Jared Loughner."
How will the defense try to strike a deal? That's still unclear. He might avoid trial altogether by agreeing to talk about co-conspirators. If his case does go to trial later this year, there's speculation that Dzhokhar may plead insanity or blame his brother Tamerlan for coercion.
And then, there were those standing outside the court who believe he isn't guilty at all. We're guessing they won't be on the jury.