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Green Honda could prove crucial if Tsarnaev charged in MIT officer's killing

NBC News

The green 1999 Honda Civic that police believe was the get-away vehicle used by the Tsarnaev brothers after the slaying of MIT Police Officer Sean Collier, is shown during the recent re-enactment of the crime by police.

BOSTON -- A 1999 green Honda Civic registered to the father of the alleged Boston Marathon bombers is emerging as a potential key piece of evidence in the investigation into the brutal April 18 murder of MIT police officer Sean Collier, law enforcement officials say. 

Collier, 26, was shot multiple times in the head while sitting in his parked patrol car at about 10:30 p.m. that night, just 30 minutes before the end of his shift, police say. The next morning authorities said that 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, committed the murder.

But there are no known witnesses to the shooting and so far, prosecutors at the Middlesex District Attorney’s office, which has jurisdiction over the crime, have yet to bring charges in Collier’s killing. 

In recent days, police appear to be using the bullet-riddled Honda to try to build a murder case against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  Last week police towed the car -- recovered hours after the murder on the same street in Watertown where the Tsarnaev brothers allegedly engaged police in a bloody shootout and where Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed -- to Cambridge and then staged a re-enactment at the scene of the Collier murder, law enforcement officials tell NBC News.   

One source who participated in the re-enactment said police drove the car to a spot near where Collier’s body and squad car were found on an off-street plaza. They also drove it around a block of the MIT campus three times – raising the possibility, according to the source, that they could be trying to match the vehicle to surveillance camera footage from the night of the killing.

Newtown resident Mike Doucette speaks with NBC's Michael Isikoff about the violent shootout that occurred outside his Watertown, Mass., home, allegedly between authorities and the Boston Marathon bombing suspects.

It is unclear at this stage of the investigation whether authorities have recovered evidence linking a 9 mm Ruger handgun recovered at the scene of the Watertown shootout to Collier’s murder, or whether they can prove who fired the weapon. That means placing the green Honda at the murder scene could prove crucial if prosecutors decide to charge Dzhokhar Tsarnaev with killing Collier.

Massachusetts motor vehicle records show that car was purchased on Aug. 29, 2010, and registered the next day to Anzor Tsarnaev, father of the two brothers, at the same Cambridge address where the Tsarnaev  family lived. Anzor Tsarnaev, who ran a car mechanic business, later left the  U.S. and now lives in Russia. (There has been no suggestion he was in any way involved in the events in Boston last month.

Several accounts have emerged since the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings, which authorities say were carried out by the Tsarnaev brothers, linking Dzhokhar to the Honda.

Gilberto Junior, who runs a Cambridge auto body shop two blocks from the Tsarnaev home, told NBC News that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev came by his store just a few weeks before the bombing, driving the green Honda.  

Related: Boston carjack victim on narrow escape: 'God was with me'

New information about the role of Honda in the events that night, including being used to transport explosives,  has also come in recent days from a Chinese national known as Danny,  whose black Mercedes SUV allegedly was car-jacked by the Tsarnaevs in Cambridge shortly after the Collier murder.

Danny, who has asked that his real name not be used, said he has been questioned repeatedly by the FBI and local police. Portions of his account were cited in an FBI affidavit filed along with a federal criminal complaint last week charging Dzhokhar Tsarnaev with the Boston Marathon bombings.

In an interview with TODAY’s Matt Lauer, Danny said Tuesday that Tamerlan Tsarnaev approached his parked car that night and, thinking that the stranger was asking directions, he rolled down his window.

Tsarnaev then reached through the window, opened the door, got in and demanded money, aiming a gun “right at my head,” he said. He also asked Danny if he had heard about the Boston “explosion,” according to his account, adding, “I did that and I just killed a police officer in Cambridge.”

A man known as Danny, who was held captive in his own car by the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, tells TODAY's Matt Lauer he doesn't know why the pair didn't kill him and describes what he thought about to get him through the ordeal.

Danny said Tamerlan Tsarnaev ordered him to drive around the area, looking for an ATM machine, while another car followed them. Danny said the car following them was a “very light-color" Honda.

 At one point, Danny recounted, Tamarlan Tsarnaev had him pull over on a street in Watertown, where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev got out of the Honda, transferred bags of material to the trunk of his Mercedes and then got in the backseat of the SUV. The Honda was left on a street in Watertown, he said.

The three men — with Tamarlan Tsarnaev now driving, Danny in the passenger seat and Dzhokhar in the back --  then drove back toward Cambridge. With the Mercedes running low on gas, Danny said, Tamerlan Tsarnaev pulled into a gas station that took cash only. When Tamerlan unlocked the doors to the car, Danny said he quickly unfastened his seatbelt and fled across the street to a Mobil station, where he immediately called 911.

Police were able to track the Mercedes using the car’s GPS system and soon located the two brothers in Watertown, where they believe they may have planned to ditch the Mercedes – unload their explosives—and get back in their Honda to attempt their escape.  

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