Lawyers in Boston bombings case tangle over death penalty issues

Federal prosecutors tangled in court Monday with defense lawyers for Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev over the government’s timeline to make a decision on whether to seek the death penalty in the case.

Both Tsarnaev’s defense attorneys and the U.S. District Attorney for Boston are required to submit information to U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. about whether the government should pursue a capital case against Tsarnaev.

Tsarnaev, 20, has pleaded not guilty to numerous charges, including using a weapon of mass destruction in the twin bombings that killed three and injured 260 at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15.


At Monday’s status hearing, the defense said it needed more time to submit its argument against the death penalty. It also asked for the government to turn over interviews with Tsarnaev’s family members as well as grand jury testimony, according to the Boston Herald. Defense lawyers also said that the government had redacted too much information from the documents.

The government argued that the defense has had enough time to prepare its submission. In a document filed on Friday, prosecutors said they had asked defense lawyers to give input on the death penalty by Aug. 23 but that defense had asked for more time. In a joint status report filed Sept. 17, the government said it has provided all the documents and information that the defense needs. The defense said at the time that it needs more information.

Prosecutors plan to make their recommendation to Holder by Oct. 31, six months after the bombings. The government said the timeline provided the defense a “reasonable opportunity” to respond. By law, Holder has 90 days to decide whether to seek the death penalty.

At the status conference Monday, Judge George O’Toole Jr. ordered the defense to submit a formal request for more information by the end of the day and gave the government one week to file its response. The next status conference will be held Nov. 12.

Tsarnaev’s defense attorneys include a respected federal public defender, Miriam Conrad, and Judy Clarke, a San Diego-based death penalty expert who also represented Jared Loughner, the man who killed six people in Arizona in 2011.

Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, allegedly built pressure-cooker bombs and placed them near the finish line of the marathon. The brothers were not identified until several days after the twin bombings.

Tamerlan died of injuries after Dzhokhar ran over him during a confrontation with police in the fatal shooting of an MIT police officer. Dzhokhar escaped and was the subject of a manhunt that paralyzed much of Boston until his capture the next day in the Boston suburb of Watertown.

In a transcript of a hearing unsealed last month, the doctor who attended Dzhokhar Tsarnaev after the shootout reported to a judge that the suspect had multiple gunshot wounds, one of which entered the left side of his mouth and exited the left side of his face. Tsarnaev also had a skull fracture, injuries to his pharynx and mouth, and gunshot wounds in his lower extremities.

Tsarnaev is being held in a federal medical detention center outside of Boston. He did not appear at the Monday hearing.

The state of Massachusetts does not have the death penalty, but Tsarnaev is facing federal charges. A Boston Globe poll released last week found that 57% of Boston residents support a life sentence for Tsarnaev if he is convicted, while 33% favor the death penalty.

Also on Monday, Ed Davis, the Boston police commissioner who led law enforcement through the bombings and the manhunt, announced he was resigning after seven years at the job. For many, Davis was the public face of law enforcement over a 24-hour period during which the city was on lockdown and residents of many neighborhoods were advised not to leave their homes.


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