Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the accused terrorist who faces a possible death sentence if he’s convicted of bombing last year’s Boston Marathon, will go to trial Nov. 3, almost a year earlier than his lawyers requested.
U.S. District Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. set the date today at a hearing in Boston after rejecting defense lawyers’ request for a trial no earlier than September 2015.
“That’s the calendar,” O’Toole said. “I think it is a realistic and fair one.”
The expedited trial date comes as lawyers for Tsarnaev, 20, prepare a defense case involving thousands of pieces of evidence and possible capital punishment for the former college student. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Jan. 30 said the government would seek capital punishment for Tsarnaev if he’s convicted. If a jury finds him guilty, a separate trial will be scheduled on whether to put Tsarnaev to death.
The double bombing on April 15, 2013, killed three people and injured more than 260. It was the first deadly terrorist attack in the U.S. since Sept. 11, 2001. Tsarnaev pleaded not guilty in July to 30 counts, including the shooting murder of a university police officer in the days after the terror attack.
“I understand the court’s desire to move the trial along, but the litigation schedule will be virtually impossible,” Judy Clarke, one of Tsarnaev’s defense lawyers, said in court.
Clarke told the judge the defense team is still waiting to review 2,000 pieces of evidence now held in Federal Bureau of Investigation labs in Quantico, Virginia, and is waiting for prosecutors to provide descriptions of what the items are.
“It’s not the defense dragging its feet,” Clarke said. “We’re really struggling to get access to information.”
In a Jan. 30 court filing backing Holder’s decision, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz in Boston said Tsarnaev received asylum from the U.S. and enjoyed the freedom of being a citizen before the attack. He “betrayed his allegiance to the United States by killing and maiming people,” she said.
As the trial date nears, Tsarnaev’s lawyers will probably seek to delay it and O’Toole may consider the request if the defense team can demonstrate why more time is needed, said Mark Pearlstein, a former prosecutor in Boston who’s now a lawyer at McDermott Will & Emery LLP.
“Judge O’Toole no doubt wants to move the case along as briskly as possible,” Pearlstein, who isn’t involved in the case, said in an e-mail. However, “the work associated with defending a capital case is enormous.”
Tsarnaev’s defense team, led by Miriam Conrad, a federal public defender in Boston, previously sought to delay deadlines in the case by arguing more time was needed to review extensive amounts of evidence.
Tsarnaev, who is being held in a federal medical facility in Ayer, Massachusetts, faces a Feb. 28 deadline to decide whether to seek to move the trial out of Boston.
In addition to the bombing deaths, Tsarnaev is charged with killing Sean Collier, a police officer for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. Collier’s shooting at point-blank range on the evening of April 18 set off an overnight manhunt that led to Tsarnaev’s capture and the death of his brother, Tamerlan, 26.
One of the victims of the bombing, Marc Fucarile of Stoneham, Massachusetts, whose right leg was amputated above the knee after the attack, attended the hearing on crutches.
Fucarile said he was pleased with the trial schedule. “It’s cut and dried,” he said of the case against Tsarnaev.
The case is U.S. v. Tsarnaev, 13-cr-10200, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).
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