Boston Marathon bombing defendant Dzhokhar Tsarnaev said his personal e-mails and contents of his laptop should be barred from his capital trial because federal agents exceeded the scope of their search warrants.
Tsarnaev, who faces a possible death sentence if he’s convicted in November, argued yesterday in a Boston federal court filing that investigators didn’t establish probable cause to search his three Yahoo and Gmail accounts and that they seized data unrelated to the case, including family photographs.
The warrant application had “scanty” facts to justify the search, his lawyers said. The applications also showed that federal agents “had already seized the data sought by the search warrant before they applied for the warrant.”
Lawyers for Tsarnaev, 20, are grappling with prosecutors over evidence that may be used in the trial for the April 15, 2013, attack that killed three people and injured 260. The former college student’s legal team hasn’t denied Tsarnaev was involved in the bombing and is focusing instead on blocking evidence that may persuade jurors to vote to execute him.
Investigators violated Tsarnaev’s Fourth Amendment rights by failing to use a filter and searching evidence that was unrelated to the bombing, including his classwork, pizza order confirmations and Netflix requests, according to the filing.
Christina Sterling, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz in Boston, didn’t immediately return a call for comment on the filing.
Today, U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock in Boston ruled that three of Tsarnaev’s college friends, who are accused in a related case of obstructing the probe into the attack, will have separate trials, starting June 30. Woodlock also denied a request to move the trials to another city.
Tsarnaev’s lawyers have suggested in court filings that they will seek during the trial to place greater blame for the attack on his dead older brother, Tamerlan, saying he had contact with Islamic extremists in Russia’s Dagestan region and may have manipulated his younger brother into aiding him.
Last month, Tsarnaev’s lawyers lost a bid to force the U.S. to turn over evidence that may show Tamerlan, 26, who died in a police shootout, was radicalized, possibly after federal agents solicited him to act as an informant in the Muslim community.
The Tsarnaev brothers were inspired by al-Qaeda and motivated by the U.S. military’s killing of Muslim civilians, prosecutors have said. Dzokhar Tsarnaev pleaded not guilty in July to 30 counts, including allegations that he killed a university police officer in the days after the attack.
The trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 3.
Tsarnaev’s three college friends, Dias Kadyrbayev, Robel Phillipos and Azamat Tazhayakov, are accused of taking his backpack and laptop from his dorm room after receiving a text message from Tsarnaev and attempting to dispose of the backpack in a dumpster. The men deny wrongdoing.
At today’s hearing in their case, Kadyrbayev’s lawyer sought to suppress statements he allegedly made involuntarily to federal investigators who arrived at his apartment in the days after the attack, searching for Tsarnaev.
Investigators had found Tsarnaev’s phone bills were being sent to his friends’ apartment, and that Tsarnaev had made three videoconference calls with Kadyrbayev on April 18, 2013, three days after the bombing.
As the manhunt for Tsarnaev and his brother spread across Boston, then-FBI Director Robert Mueller ordered the apartment shared by Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov searched without a warrant, FBI Special Agent John Walker testified today.
When Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov emerged from the apartment, Walker, who was there, said he demanded to know where Tsarnaev was. He said he asked if there were bombs there and told the men they must tell the truth.
“I said, effectively, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is dead; whether he is still living, his life is over. Your life is not over. You must tell me the truth,” Walker said.
The case is U.S. v. Tsarnaev, 13-cr-10200, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).
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