BOSTON — Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was given a November trial date over the strenuous objections of his attorneys, who said Wednesday that they won’t have enough time to mount a defence in a terrorism case that carries a possible death penalty.
The Nov. 3 trial date is nearly a year earlier than the earliest date requested by Tsarnaev’s lawyers, but in line with what prosecutors had sought.
“I think it is a realistic and a fair one,” U.S. District Judge George 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 last April. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died following a shootout with police several days later.
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.
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 attorney 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 hasn’t been able to examine yet.
“It’s not the defence dragging its feet. We’re really struggling with getting access to evidence,” she said.
Assistant U.S. 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’s 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 United States about a decade ago from the Dagestan region of Russia.
“There’s just a tremendous amount of logistical hurdles,” she said.
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.
Also on Wednesday, Congressman William Keating said the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee is planning to hold a hearing in Boston this spring so victims, first responders and law enforcement officials can testify about their experiences.
Keating said the committee is wrapping up its report on the bombings and now wants to hear from survivors and others.
“I think the people in Boston deserve this opportunity and I think it will help the rest of the country in the process,” he said.
A date and location for the hearing have not been picked, but Keating said he hopes it will be held before this year’s marathon, scheduled for April 21.