Boston marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been given a November trial date despite objections from his lawyers, who said that they will not have enough time to mount a defence over the case that carries a possible death penalty.
“This is a unique case, obviously,” said US District Judge George O’Toole Jr, after he ordered jury selection to begin on November 3, well ahead of the September 2015 start the defence requested.
“I think it is a realistic and a fair one,” O’Toole Jr said of the schedule he set.
Federal prosecutors announced last month that they will seek the death penalty against Tsarnaev, who is charged in twin bombings that killed three people and wounded more than 260.
Prosecutors allege that Tsarnaev, 20, and his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, built and planted two pressure cooker bombs near the finish line of the marathon on April 15, last year.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev died following a shoot-out with police several days later.
‘Cut and dried’
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty to 30 federal counts, including using a weapon of mass destruction. He is being held at a federal prison and was not in court for Wednesday’s hearing.
Several people injured in the bombings did attend, including Marc Fucarile, the AP news agency reported.
Fucarile, who lost his right leg above the knee, said he wished the trial would start even earlier.
“Why not?” he said. “Everybody should be on the same page. It’s pretty cut and dried with the evidence. Don’t waste anybody’s time.”
Defence lawyer Judy Clarke, one of the country’s leading death penalty specialists, complained that prosecutors have been “sluggish” in turning over evidence to her team.
In particular, she cited 2,000 pieces of physical evidence at an FBI lab in Quantico, Virginia, that the defence has not been able to examine yet.
“It’s not the defence dragging its feet. We’re really struggling with getting access to evidence,” she said.
Review of items
Assistant US Attorney Aloke Chakravarty said prosecutors are hoping to bring those items back to Boston for easier viewing by the defence. He said prosecutors have made evidence relevant to both the trial and the penalty hearing available.
Clarke said it is doubtful the defence could get experts to review the items before this summer, which would make a November trial date “virtually impossible.”
Clarke said the defence has a “tremendous amount” of work to do to compile information on Tsarnaev’s family history.
The family lived in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan and came to the US about a decade ago from the Dagestan region of Russia.
O’Toole did not agree to change the trial date, but he did order prosecutors to compile a list of the items in Quantico for Tsarnaev’s lawyers by the end of the week. The judge scheduled another court hearing for June 18.