A federal judge said today that Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev may be able to get visits from his family in prison without being monitored by an FBI agent.
Defense attorneys had argued that they wanted the family to be able to speak freely during the visits so they could see the “story” of the Tsarnaev family.
US District Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. brushed aside prosecutors’ suggestion that the FBI agent’s presence was necessary for security.
“I don’t think the safety, security issue looms very large,” he said.
He said the government had two options: either remove the FBI agent from the room or assign an agent who is not on the Tsarnaev case.
Prosecutors said the US Bureau of Prisons might have an opinion on whether Tsarnaev could meet his family without an agent present. So O’Toole said he would wait for two weeks before issuing a final decision.
Defense attorneys have indicated that they might suggest at trial that Tsarnaev, who was 19 at the time of last year’s bombings, was under the influence of his late older brother, Tamerlan, 26, when they allegedly committed the bombings.
O’Toole said he would also ponder a request by the defense for the statement that Ibragim Todashev, a friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s, allegedly made to investigators implicating himself and Tamerlan in the 2011 killings of three men in Waltham. Todashev was killed by a federal agent in May 2013 in Florida after he allegedly attacked investigators while preparing his written statement.
Defense attorneys said Todashev’s statement would also help tell the story of the family. The defense has suggested that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a committed, proven killer who might have placed his younger brother in fear.
David I. Bruck, one of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s attorneys, said the defense team was asking for any information that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had “slit the necks” of three “helpless” people.
“This case is very much a story about a family and the relationships between them,” Bruck said.
The judge said he would review the Todashev statement in private before deciding whether to release it to the defense.
It was the first time the prosecution and defense had faced off in court in two months. Tsarnaev was not present at today’s hearing.
After their last court appearance Feb. 12, both sides filed a number of motions. Those motions were addressed today.
After the 1½-hour hearing, the judge set another hearing for June 18.
In other action, the defense asked for any information on the case gathered under secret federal surveillance programs, but a prosecutor denied there was any.
“We can put that to rest right now. There is none,” said Assistant US Attorney Aloke Chakravarty.
The judge told prosecutors that they must notify the defense of any evidence they expected to bring.
Judge O’Toole also ruled that Tsarnaev could see autopsy photos of his victims, despite prosecutors’ arguments that allowing him to see them would violate the victims’ privacy and subject their families to needless suffering.
The April 15, 2013 bombings killed three people and injured more than 260 others. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a violent confrontation with police in Watertown several days later.
Dzokhar Tsarnaev faces a 30-count federal indictment. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. He also faces state charges that he, along with his brother, murdered MIT Police Officer Sean Collier.