A number of different news outlets have reported that a 25 year-old man was stopped near the Boston Marathon finish line due to his suspicious behavior on April 15th, 2014, the one year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings. According to the various news reports, passers-by told a police officer that they saw the man acting strangely, including walking barefoot down the middle of a street, veiled in black, in the rain. The man was carrying a backpack and was also reportedly yelling “Boston Strong.” When officers approached him and asked him what was in the backpack, he stated that he had a “non-explosive rice cooker,” which is the same type of device used to execute last year’s bombings. Police determined that the bag’s contents were not explosive – in fact the rice cooker contained confetti. In an abundance of caution, however, the police chose to destroy the backpack. A second “suspicious” backpack also was found in the area. Although reports originally indicated that both backpacks were left by the man, officers had actually determined that the second bag had been left behind by a reporter and was not dangerous. It too was destroyed.
As the story broke, it came to light that the man has a lengthy history of bi-polar disorder and was off his medication. He was reportedly on his way to an art performance of some kind when he was observed by the officers and stopped. As a result of his conduct, the man was arraigned in the Boston Municipal Municipal Court on charges of threats, possession of a hoax explosive device, disturbing the peace, disturbing a public assembly, and disorderly conduct.
While everyone’s nerves are understandably on edge as the 2014 Marathon approaches, and the man’s conduct was legitimately concerning, it’s questionable as to whether the Commonwealth will be able to make the criminal charges against him stick. One issue is whether the man was too mentally ill to be able to appreciate the nature of his conduct and therefore whether he could even form the requisite criminal intent. As a result of this question, he could raise a lack of criminal responsibility defense. Although such a defense is historically difficult to present, given the man’s history of mental illness and his undeniably odd conduct, it’s possible that he may succeed in doing so.