January Trial Approaches for Boston Marathon Bombing Suspect

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bombing suspect, was seen publicly for the first time in a year and a half when he made an appearance in federal court last Thursday, December 18.

During the 25-minute hearing in a Boston courtroom, U.S. District Judge George A. O’Toole, Jr. asked the lucid and alert Tsarnaev whether he had been working with his lawyers and whether he thought they were working in his best interest, to which the mostly quiet suspect answered, “Yes, sir,” and “Very much.” His sweater and dress shirt stood in stark contrast to Tsarnaev’s outfit at his last public appearance: an orange prison jumpsuit.

The 21-year-old is accused of multiple charges that could incur the death penalty due to his suspected involvement in the April 2013 bombings that killed three and wounded more than 260.

Photo courtesy of VOA/Wikimedia Commons.

Photo courtesy of VOA / Wikimedia Commons

Outside the courtroom, dozens gathered, including survivors, their relatives, supporters of Tsarnaev, and curious spectators. Inside, lawyers for the defense stated their intention to file a motion that would push back the trial, which is scheduled to begin January 5. The defense cites inadequate preparation time for their request to delay the trial, saying that recent, unspecified events slowed their work.

Judge O’Toole, Jr. announced that the process for selecting the jurors will be discussed with the lawyers but will be kept private in order to avoid “[undermining their] ability to select a jury.” Also sealed will be the list of potential witnesses until the jury has been selected. The judge stated that he will rule on the defense’s request for relocation of the trial to another district and that there will not be a hearing to investigate accusations of law enforcement leaking information to the media.

The hearing was abruptly interrupted by Elena Teyer, the mother-in-law of Ibragim Todashev. Todashev was shot and killed in May 2013 after attacking an FBI agent to whom he had allegedly confessed to murdering three people with Dzhokhar’s older brother and suspected accomplice in the bombings, Tamerlan.

Teyer yelled a message of support in Russian before switching to English, shouting, “Stop killing innocent people! Don’t kill innocent boy, please,” before being removed from the courtroom.

The Tuesday following the hearing, the defense submitted the request to push the trial back to September. Prosecutors are asking Judge O’Toole, Jr. to deny the motion, in which the defense protests that the government produced documents that numbered thousands of pages of evidence, including a 730-name witness list, which overwhelmed them. The prosecution contests, calling this a stall tactic and asserting that there was adequate time for the defense to prepare, as the team was already well-acquainted with the evidence in the case.

“Tsarnaev should not be heard to complain about the receipt of information that he himself has requested and that the government had no legal obligation to provide earlier (or at all),” says one prosecution lawyer.

The trial was originally scheduled for November 3 and has already been rescheduled once. It is currently set to begin January 3. Tsarnaev is being held in a federal prison at Fort Devens in Ayer.

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Kate Rogers