Attorneys for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev have argued that his alleged betrayal of the United States should not be factored into whether he is put to death. Photo: File
A federal judge today called it "obnoxious" for federal prosecutors to try and use the accused Boston bomber's alleged betrayal of the United States as grounds for execution if the 20-year-old is convicted.
Federal attorneys prosecuting Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is set to stand trial in November for the fatal bombings, had previously filed motions that the Chechen-born suspect's betrayal of the nation that took him in should be a factor in a jury's decision to kill him.
"To draw a distinction between naturalized and natural-born citizen is inappropriate," U.S. District Judge George O'Toole said at today's status conference, adding that the public should note that "only the former take an oath."
Federal prosecutors claim that Tsarnaev and his late brother, Tamerlan, 26, placed the bombs that ripped through a crowd of spectators, volunteers and athletes at Boston Marathon finish line in 2013, and three days later shot dead a university police officer in an unsuccessful bid to steal his gun.
Prosecutors said that Tsarnaev's motive for carrying out the Boston Marathon bombing was "to provide aid and comfort to America's enemies."
Defense attorneys have said they can't get a fair trial in Boston; they have until the end of the day to file a motion to move his trial out of the city.
U.S. laws generally require a person accused of crimes to face trial in the district where the crimes were committed, although defense attorneys sometimes seek to have the proceedings moved to a district where potential jurors may have been less influenced by pretrial publicity.
Also in court today, O'Toole denied a request by Tsarnaev's lawyers for the accused Boston Marathon bomber to allow them to meet jointly with their client and his sisters without having FBI agents present.
Defense attorneys had argued that understanding Tsarnaev's relations with his family would be important to making a case that he does not deserve execution if convicted of the attack, saying the presence of a federal officers prevented normal conversations.
O'Toole instead ruled that he would approve a proposal by prosecutors to have a federal agent from outside Boston, possibly from Rhode Island or Connecticut, who is not directly involved in the investigation to monitor the meetings at Federal Medical Center Devens, where Tsarnaev is being held.
O'Toole also criticized alleged "leaks," in the form of media interviews, by the prosecution.
“I’m not very happy about it,” O’Toole said, though he held off on scheduling a hearing on the matter, saying it would only make the situation worse. He warned, however, that it would be "unwise" for the prosecution to grant future interviews.