World & Nation

Boston Marathon bombing suspect may view autopsy photos, judge rules

Boston Marathon bombings
Medical workers aid the injured on April 15, 2013, after an explosion at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in Boston.
(Charles Krupa / Associated Press)

A federal judge in Boston ruled Wednesday that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev may view autopsy photographs of three people who died in the Boston Marathon bombings and indicated that he might ease some of the restrictions on the defendant to allow him unmonitored visits with his family.

Tsarnaev, 20, has been held in federal custody since his arrest last year in the April 15 explosions at the finish line area of the marathon. He faces the death penalty if convicted of 30 counts, including detonating a weapon of mass destruction resulting in deaths.

A year ago Tuesday, two bombs went off in the Boylston Street finish line area, killing three people and injuring more than 260. During a four-day hunt for the bombers, an MIT campus police officer was also killed. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the defenant’s brother, died after a gun battle with police in the Boston suburb of Watertown, Mass. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured in Watertown on April 19.

On Wednesday, lawyers for the defense and prosecution faced off in federal court for the first time in two months to deal with a variety of pending motions. Tsarnaev, whose trial on the federal charges is scheduled to begin in November, was not present.

District Court Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. rejected a government move to prevent Tsarnaev from viewing autopsy pictures of the three people — Krystle Campbell, Martin Richard and Lu Lingzi — who were killed by the bombs. The government had argued that allowing Tsarnaev to see all the photos, even those that will not be used in his trial, would create suffering for the victims and their families. 

Defense attorneys had argued that they were the best judges of what the defendant could see and that they had never heard of such a restriction. O’Toole denied a defense motion to drop some of the criminal counts that the defense maintains are redundant, according to news reports. 

Tsarnaev has been held in Federal Medical Center Devens in Ayer, Mass., about 40 miles from Boston, under what the government calls special administrative measures. Those rules, often invoked in terrorism cases, mean that Tsarnaev isn’t allowed to speak to or be around other inmates, use TV or radio, or correspond on non-legal matters with anyone other than family members. He can contact his relatives only once a week.

The tight security also includes having an FBI agent monitor Tsarnaev’s discussions with relatives during any visit. During one such meeting, Tsarnaev reportedly made what court papers call “a statement to his detriment” to his sister.

Defense attorneys argued that they wanted the family to be able to speak freely during the visits and that understanding the family would be part of their defense of Tsarnaev.

Judge O’Toole appeared to reject the government’s suggestion that the FBI agent’s presence was necessary for security, but will wait before issuing his ruling to allow federal prison officials time to weigh in on the issue.

O’Toole also said he would review documents relating to Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s suspected role in a triple slaying in Waltham., Mass., two years before the bombing. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s lawyers said they want to see the documents, including a statement by Ibragim Todashev, who was shot to death by a federal agent in May 2013 after he allegedly attacked investigators during an interview with law enforcement officials.

For the defense, those documents could help support their argument that Tamerlan, the older brother, was a committed killer who used fear to push Dzhokhar into participating in the Boston Marathon bombing.

Prosecutors, however, argued to keep the papers secret because the release of Todahsev’s statements could jeopardize an ongoing state investigation into the triple slaying. Officials recently cleared the federal agents of any wrongdoing in the killing of Todashev.

In other action, the defense asked for any information on the case gathered under federal secret surveillance programs, but a prosecutor denied there was any.