Lawyers for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the accused Boston Marathon bomber, on Friday requested “all eyewitness and other accounts” by a man who was killed by an FBI agent in Florida, allegedly after the man implicated Tsarnaev’s older brother in a triple murder in Waltham in 2011.
In a motion filed on Friday in federal court in Boston, Tsarnaev’s lawyers asked for statements from the late Ibragim Todashev, 27, writing that the manner in which Tsarnaev’s brother, Tamerlan, “induced Todashev to participate in [the Waltham triple murder] may shed light on the process by which he allegedly drew [Dzhokar Tsarnaev] into violence some 19 months later” at the Marathon.
According to authorities in Florida, during an interview with the FBI and Massachusetts State Police in his Orlando apartment in May 2013, Todashev confessed to helping Tamerlan Tsarnaev kill three men in Waltham in September 2011.
Soon after the alleged confession, officials have said, Todashev attacked the investigators and was fatally shot by an FBI agent.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, allegedly set off the Marathon blasts on April 15, 2013, with Dzhokhar, his younger brother. The explosions killed three people, including an 8-year-old Dorchester boy, and injured more than 260.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a confrontation with police four days after the bombings. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty to several charges that could bring the death penalty for his alleged role in the blasts.
The State Police, FBI, and US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz’s office all declined to comment on the defense motion to obtain copies of Todashev’s statements regarding the Waltham triple slaying.
Legal experts said it makes sense for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s lawyers to raise the issue of Todashev’s statements and, by extension, Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s alleged ability to convince people to participate in killings.
“It may be the only play [the defense lawyers] have,” said Alan M. Dershowtiz, a Harvard Law professor and member of the legal team that won an acquittal in the O.J. Simpson murder trial. “It is a smart play, and it’s rational.”
Gerard T. Leone Jr., a former state and federal prosecutor who helped secure a guilty plea for Richard Reid, the so-called shoe-bomber, said he believes that Todashev’s statements would be more useful to Tsarnaev’s lawyers during a possible sentencing phase of his trial.
“I’ve always thought from square one that one of their best approaches, if they have to go to a death penalty sentencing phase, would be to try to say that [Dzhokhar Tsarnaev] was coerced or under duress or intimidated” by his older brother, said Leone, a partner at Nixon Peabody.
But Jeffrey Denner, a Boston defense lawyer, said he doubts that strategy will work, even though he understands why Tsarnaev’s lawyers are seeking Todashev’s statements.
“It’s still a significant stretch,” he said.
Separately, a judge on Friday denied a request from Tsarnaev’s legal team to extend a June 18 deadline for filing a motion to change the venue of the highly anticipated trial.