Police Let Tsarnaev Get Away With 2011 Murder, or Had No Evidence

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Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26.Photo: AP/Corbis

It emerged following the Boston Marathon bombing that at least one of the Tsarnaev brothers was tied to an unsolved 2011 triple-homicide in Waltham, Mass., and Ibragim Todashev might have been in the process of implicating himself and his friend Tamerlan when he was killed by FBI agents. Now the New York Times is taking things a step further, reporting that new evidence against Tamerlan "has led some law enforcement authorities to contend that if the local murder investigation had been more vigorous it could have led to his apprehension well before the bombings left 3 dead and more than 260 wounded — in short, that the bombings might never have happened." Presumably that implication isn't going to sit well with local investigators, not that they can say much about it.

To recap, on September 12, 2011, Brendan Mess, 25, Erik Weissman, 31, and Raphael Teken, 37 were found with knife slashes to their throats and marijuana sprinkled over their bodies. Tamerlan was reportedly one of Mess's closest friends, and frequently visited the apartment where the murders took place.

It's not entirely clear what information has emerged that strengthened the case against Tsarnaev. A senior law enforcement official says that even before speaking with Todashev, investigators were gathering information against him using "old-fashioned" police work, such as going through his phone and interviewing witnesses. Back in 2011, there were so few clues that investigators concluded the murders were professionally done, and probably drug-related. One official said investigators were aided by DNA evidence taken from Tsarnaev after his death, and were able to put together "a lot of circumstantial pieces" to pressure Todashev into confessing.

Numerous friends and family members of the victims complained to the Times that they mentioned Tsarnaev during the initial investigation, but police never questioned him. One friend who spoke on the condition of anonymity said they mentioned Tsarnaev again after he failed to show up for his friend's funeral. "I felt that the police were not really looking in the right places," said the friend, adding, "I told the police that there were only two Muslims I knew of who hung around the group of friends, and because of the 9/11 date, the fact that Tamerlan and Brendan’s last girlfriend were Muslim stood out."

It does seem that as one of the victim's best friends, Tsarnaev should have been questioned. However, if the strongest evidence against Tsarnaev at the time was that he was the Muslim friend of a man killed on 9/11 (or possibly early on 9/12) and didn't attend a funeral, it's easy to see why investigators would focus elsewhere. Officials with the prosecutor's office and the state police said they couldn't comment on an ongoing investigation, so we don't really get their side of the story. One law enforcement official denied that anyone pointed to Tsarnaev immediately after the murders, adding, "Don’t you think if someone had told us to take a look at him and that he had information, we would have talked to him?"