A question which has not been raised by the defense in the Tsarnaev trial won’t seem to go away. The question challenges the veracity of the FBI in every way, down to its willingness to deceive the public, if this question cannot be satisfactorily answered. The question derives its significance from the plain simple forensic fact that once a still photograph is taken, parts or people within it cannot move. Not even a little bit. People move in videos. But not still photographs. Keep this simple fact in mind.
So when a Marathon runner took a photograph of the chaos at Boylston and Fairfield Streets, after the Boston bombs went off, it was on the spur of the moment, before he continued ahead to help the injured. It was not until later that it was discovered that the photograph apparently contained a small figure, a young man, who was of interest to law enforcement. That young man wore a white baseball cap, turned backwards, and seemed to be walking, along with the crowd, away from the location of the carnage. The FBI later declared that the iPhone picture showed none other than Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Without his backpack.
“Conspiracy theorists,” a term now for people who tend not to take anything the government says at face value, immediately jumped on the image, saying that it looked like something behind the image, about where a backpack would be, had been airbrushed out. At best the argument was inconclusive. But when the prosecution showed the photo again in 2015, within a compilation of surveillance videos, something happened that could not happen in a still photo: Dzhokhar moved. The prosecution’s 2015 image can be seen at minute 9:02 in official prosecution video compilation.
Not much. But remember, this is a still photo. One copy, if it is a copy, looks exactly like another. In the photograph taken by the Marathon runner shown to the public in 2013, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is well past a wooden door with a bald man standing next to it. In the version of the photo shown to the jury, Tsarnaev is right in front of the door and the bald man.
Is it a different photograph, taken at nearly the same time and from the same angle? If so, it cannot have been taken by the Marathon runner, who told the New York Daily News: “It was one shot and it was the shot that counted.”
The runner told NBC Miami:
“I thought maybe it was a cannon…Then the second one exploded as he was walking toward it. When I saw it, I pulled out the camera and immediately took that picture.”
He then put it back in his pocket and went to help the injured.
That means either someone, not this Marathon runner, was standing right next to him, to capture almost exactly the same angle, and snapped the shutter within no more than a second from the time the Marathon runner snapped his. But the runner did not say anything about another cameraman, nor did another cameraman step forward after the first one did and say, “hey, I have almost the same picture” and hand it to law enforcement.
The Marathon runner’s photo was hailed as a great stroke of good luck in helping to solve the crime, in depicting an image of someone who had been seen in surveillance photos with a backpack, now without his backpack. The hunt for the Tsarnaev brothers was on.
There is one problem. In the etched-in-stone, fixed-pixel world of still photographs, which is what the Marathon runner took, not a video, Dzhokhar moved. “It was one shot and it was the shot that counted” he said.
Another possible explanation, one might think, is that maybe there was a surveillance camera, which just happened to be trained on exactly the same spot at the same angle, and this is a frame from the surveillance camera video. If so, the government should be able to produce the entire video, where we can see Tsarnaev move across the corner at the building of Boylston and Fairfield.
It just so happens, though, that the corner does not seem to have a surveillance camera or anything for that surveillance camera to watch, except a barren brick wall. Below is what was behind the Marathon runner who took the picture, looking back in the opposite direction.
If the source of the photo with Dzhokhar in front of the door and the bald man cannot be produced, then there is only one conclusion. The image shown to the public in 2013 was manipulated in the first place, and carelessly replaced with a different manipulation, or remanipulated slightly differently. There is only one thing we know, that it cannot be one and the same photo as the one the Marathon runner took. Because in still photos, people do not move. Not even a little bit. No matter how much time goes by.