Nov. 3 is the trial date set for alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a setback for a defense team that had lobbied a federal judge for a start time almost a year later.
US District Judge George O'Toole, concurring with federal prosecutors, said Wednesday that extending the timeline for the trial risked overstuffing the proceedings with immaterial evidence. Lawyers for Mr. Tsarnaev had requested a trial date no earlier than September 2015, according to a joint status report filed in federal court in Massachusetts two days ago.
“Not everything that can be presented should be presented,” Judge O'Toole said. “This is undoubtably going to be a lengthy trial.” He called the November start date, just shy of nine months from now, a “realistic and fair one.”
Tsarnaev’s lawyers had argued that they would not have adequate time to fully review the evidence against their client, who could be executed if found guilty. Tsarnaev, who was not in court Wednesday, faces 30 federal charges for his alleged role in the bombing at the Boston Marathon on April 15, as well as for allegedly murdering a campus police officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge, Mass., while trying to elude capture three days after the bombing.
His lawyers characterized the date as “impossible” to make.
At issue are 2,000 pieces of physical evidence at a FBI office in Washington, D.C., to which the defense does not yet have access, Tsarnaev’s lawyers said. The prosecution has also been “sluggish” in answering the defense’s discovery requests, with one Dec. 9 request going unanswered until Feb. 7, the defense said.
“It has been a laboriously slow, cumbersome process,” said Judy Clarke, one of Tsarnaev’s lawyers, during the proceedings. “We’re really struggling with getting access to information.”
O’Toole ordered prosecutors to provide the defense with a list of the FBI’s 2,000 pieces of evidence before the end of the week.
Federal prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Tsarnaev, after Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. said last month that he had authorized them to do so. Massachusetts does not have the death penalty, but Tsarnaev, now 20, is charged under federal laws, which allow for it. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
At Wednesday's hearing, O’Toole also gave the defense team until June 18 to file any motion for a change of venue for the trial. Federal law requires accused criminals to be tried in the district where the offense occurred, but the defense can ask to move the trial elsewhere on grounds that local public anger is so inflamed that it is impossible to seat a fair jury. The US District Court in Boston is about two miles east of the Boston Marathon finish line, where two pressure-cooker bombs killed three spectators and wounded at least 260 people in a nightmarish scene last April.
The debate at Wednesday's status update echoed one held last month in the cases of three college buddies of Tsarnaev's who are accused of obstructing investigations into their friend’s alleged role in the bombings. At that hearing, US District Judge Douglas Woodlock set a trial date for June rather than the 2015 date two of the defendants' attorneys had sought. A no-stone-unturned attitude during the evidence-gathering phase, the judge said, could introduce needless delays into the proceedings. Lawyers for the accused students said the trial date left them with too little time to collect evidence.