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Judge sets Tsarnaev hearing for April 16

A federal judge will hear from defense attorneys for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on April 16 as they press their request for an end to special prison restrictions imposed on the Boston Marathon terror bombing suspect.

US District Judge George O’Toole, in an order released today, said he would also explore a defense request to reduce the total number of criminal charges Tsarnaev faces for allegedly setting off two bombs with his brother near the finish line of the race last year.

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“Such proliferation of multiple capital charges arising from each alleged act appears designed to put a thumb on the scales of justice in favor of the death penalty,’’ Tsarnaev’s defense team wrote in recent court papers.

Tsarnaev is facing a total of 30 charges, 18 of which carry the death penalty as the possible sentence. He is accused of murdering three people at the marathon and, in a separate state case, of the murder of MIT Police Officer Sean Collier several days after the bombings.

Tsarnaev, 20, of Cambridge is being held at a federal prison at the former Fort Devens. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Earlier this month, Tsarnaev’s lawyers and US Attorney Carmen Ortiz feuded in court papers over the meaning of a comment Tsarnaev made while his sisters visited him. Under the special restrictions, the meeting was observed by an FBI agent and a defense investigator.

Prosecutors suggested that his comment strengthened the government’s case, but the defense said it was just a humorous remark.

John R. Ellement can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.
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