Book Review: The "Long Mile Home" through an attorney's lens

Issue July 2014 By Lynn S. Muster

Riveting. This book was riveting, and most readers know the end. Even if you know the facts, you might not know the stories. So there is plenty to digest in this comprehensive account of the events surrounding the Boston Marathon bombings.

The book focuses on five people, weaving their "stories" through information gathered from news reports and extensive interviews. That approach has the book feel less like a dry chronology, and more like an engaging narrative. It also means the book is accessible to more than just Bostonians.

Reading through an attorney's lens, the reader learns what could be used on cross-examination of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, or, more likely, at his sentencing hearing. Dzhokhar will argue he was the "patsy," that he was under the influence of his strong-willed brother, Tamerlan, and that Tamerlan was the brains behind the operation. The facts presented by the authors, if true, do not support that theory.

For example, aside from the implication that Tamerlan suffered from mental illness, having confided to others of hearing voices, the Tsarnaevs deemed Dzhokhar to be the "smart" brother, boasting he was Ivy League material. Dzhokhar was a high-volume marijuana dealer (the authors claim he earned $1,000/week). Dzhokhar even had suggested that the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and attacks like them, "were sometimes justified by U.S. actions around the world."

In the year before the bombings, Dzhokhar tweeted that he had been in the United States for a decade and he "want[ed] out." (Notwithstanding that he obtained citizenship in 2012.) His college grades were sinking. And after the bombings, he coldly went about his life as if nothing had happened: "Not only was he not in hiding - he was all over campus." In the note written on the inside of the boat Dzhokhar hunkered down in during the manhunt, he admitted to his role in the bombings and defiantly claimed they were justified. When investigators searched Dzhokhar's laptop, they found materials promoting radical Islamic interpretations and martyrdom.

The reader will be curious about two issues that the authors, due to lack of information, could only vaguely explore. First, Sean Collier, the MIT police officer killed in his police vehicle, may have known Tamerlan. Collier was schooled at Salem State University, where Tamerlan "partied with friends." Also, Collier was active in Somerville boxing circles while Tamerlan "trained at one of the city's gyms." Perhaps this connection explains why the brothers proceeded so directly to the MIT campus in their attempt to supplement their weaponry.

And second, how had the house-by-house search teams not found Dzhokhar even though he was just .2 miles from where he had ditched his getaway car? The authors concluded that the manhunt "had hardly proved airtight," and that, were it not for Dzhokhar's injuries, the boat owner's discovery of him could have resulted in another victim.

Read this book, as an attorney, as a lover of Boston or as a citizen of the United States. It is an engrossing and heartbreaking work detailing not only the death and destruction caused by the Tsarnaev brothers, but also the heroism, strength and recovery of the people of Greater Boston.

Lynn S. Muster is a senior staff attorney at the Massachusetts Appeals Court, where she has worked since 2000. She is an active member of the Massachusetts Bar Association, who has served on its Appellate Bench Bar Committee and its 2012 Task Force on Law, the Economy and Underemployment.