Russian authorities have notified the US government that three members of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s defense team falsely identified themselves as FBI employees when they traveled to that country to investigate the case, prosecutors said Friday.
The allegation was made in a legal filing in US District Court in Boston, where Tsarnaev, 21, faces a possible death penalty for his alleged role in the April 15, 2013, bombings, which killed three people and wounded more than 260.
“While conducting interviews in Russia, the members of the defense team reportedly refused to produce documents confirming their legal status and identified themselves as employees of the FBI,” prosecutors wrote. “As a result, the Russian government . . . expelled them.”
Miriam Conrad, one of Tsarnaev’s lawyers, declined to address the allegations in detail during a brief phone interview on Friday. “We don’t agree with the government’s characterization of what happened,” she said. “And we’ll be responding further at an appropriate time, in writing or in court.”
Russian authorities also said that Tsarnaev’s defense team members told officials that the purpose of their recent visit was tourism.
The filing did not identify the members of the defense team or when the visit to Russia occurred, and an FBI spokesman referred questions to the office of US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz. A spokeswoman for Ortiz had no comment.
No one answered the phone at the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., on Friday evening.
Prosecutors mentioned the trip to Russia in a filing in which they opposed a pending defense request to delay the start of Tsarnaev’s trial to Sept. 1, 2015, at the earliest. The trial is currently slated to begin in November of this year.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers are scheduled to return to court for a status conference on the case on Thursday.
The parents of Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev live in Russia, and Tamerlan, the elder brother, spent six months in the country in 2012. Russian intelligence had alerted US authorities to Tamerlan’s alleged attempts to contact Islamic militants there.
Tamerlan, who was also suspected of being involved in the Marathon bombings, was killed in a confrontation just days after the Marathon attack.
Separately on Friday, lawyers and prosecutors agreed on plans for the jury selection process in the trial.
Both sides have agreed that the court should seat 12 jurors and six alternates, and that 2,000 potential jurors should be summoned beginning six weeks in advance of the trial.
In court papers, the lawyers also agreed:
PAt one point before the trial, both sides will agree on a questionnaire that the jurors would have to fill out so their backgrounds can be screened. If both sides cannot agree, the judge will finalize the questionnaire.
PAt least three business days before jury selection begins, the court will furnish the names of potential jurors for both sides.
PBoth sides will begin reviewing questionnaires as soon as they are completed. After the parties have had a week to review the questionnaires, they will submit a list of jurors who they jointly agree should be eliminated from the list. Then the court can begin interviewing individual jurors.
PThe interview process will continue until 70 jurors have been qualified to serve, meaning they have no bias or hardships. Both sides will have at least 20 chances to dismiss jurors for strategic reasons.
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 the legal teams will have to contend with “complicated human dynamics” in seating a jury for the Tsarnaev trial.
“One of the hardest things to do is to ferret out when somebody wants too badly to be on a jury,” said Leone, now a law partner at Nixon Peabody. “You do need to consider [potential jurors who] want to serve for the wrong reasons.”