Tamerlan Tsarnaev, left, and his brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, are accused of carrying out the bombings at the Boston Marathon. Credit: Reuters
A federal judge on Wednesday set the trial date for the prosecution of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for Nov. 3, about a year sooner than the 20-year-old's defense team had requested.
The decision was announced during a 30-minute status hearing at Moakley Federal Court, where attorneys met for the first time since Attorney General Eric Holder authorized the death penalty for the alleged terrorist.
U.S. District Judge George O'Toole called the date "realistic and fair," however Tsarnaev lead attorney Judy Clarke argued that the schedule was not feasible because defense attorneys were having a "laboriously" tough time getting what they need from the federal government.
“I understand the court’s desire to move the trial along, but the litigation schedule will be virtually impossible,” said Clarke, who was once dubbed by The New York Times as a "master strategist in death penalty cases."
Prosecutors said that some 2,000 items of evidence, some as small as ball bearings collected on Boylston Street, were at an FBI lab in Quantico, Virginia. Defense attorney Miriam Conrad said their team has not yet examined those exhibits, and have been given no schedule as to when they will access them.
Defense attorneys also have to comb through thousands of pages of files, computer records and security camera photographs.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Aloke Chakravarty said prosecutors were responding promptly to defense requests for information.
"We're going above and beyond what we probably need to do to make what they need available to them," Chakravarty said.
O'Toole ordered prosecutors to provide defense attorneys with a list of the physical evidence.
Once the trial begins, it "is undoubtedly going to be a lengthy" one, O'Toole said, cautioning that disagreements between defense attorneys and prosecutors could push the date back.
Tsarnaev, 20, is accused of carrying out the deadly April 15 bombing, which killed three and injured 260 more, alongside his brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, who was killed in a shootout with police.
"There are competing interests here," said Chris Dearborn, associate clinical professor of law at Suffolk University. "The public's interest in having the trial and the families of the victims getting closure. Those are all valid concerns, but they can't trump the defendant's constitutional right to have a fair trial and have attorneys that are prepared."
From a legal standpoint, Dearborn said, it isn't unreasonable for Tsarnaev's attorneys to request a delay of up to a year.
"It is not uncommon for cases to be pushed out a little bit," said Dearborn. "I think there is a really good chance they'll be given an extension."