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Tsarnaev defense renews pitch to delay trial

Says prosecutors sent thousands of documents late

Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was depicted in a courtroom sketch attending a pre-trial hearing last week.
Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was depicted in a courtroom sketch attending a pre-trial hearing last week.(Jane Flavell Collins/AP)

Attorneys for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev renewed their push Monday to delay his death penalty trial, set to start in one week, until the fall.

In papers filed in US District Court, the attorneys for the 21-year-old, who is accused of detonating two bombs at the 2013 Marathon finish line along with his late brother, Tamerlan, said the government has handed over thousands of documents to them at the last moment.

As a result, the attorneys wrote, there is no way they can be ready to defend Tsarnaev both during the trial, and if he is convicted, during the penalty phase, where jurors will be asked to decide whether the former Cambridge resident deserves the death penalty.

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The defense first asked for a delay in the start of the trial on Dec. 23. On Monday, Tsarnaev's lawyers fired back at US Attorney Carmen Ortiz's office, which has said in court papers that US District Court Judge George O'Toole Jr. should keep the scheduled trial date.

"While the government may be loath to admit it, both sides would obviously benefit from a continuance, which also would serve the broader interests of justice,'' the defense wrote. "Affording the parties additional time to prepare their respective presentations in an organized and orderly fashion would . . . streamline a complex and lengthy trial.''

Among the items they just received, the defense said, is a copy of the hard drive from a computer owned by Ibragim Todashev, a Tsarnaev friend shot to death by an FBI agent in Florida in 2013.

The FBI has said that Todashev attacked the agent during an interrogation in his Orlando, Fla., home. Todashev allegedly had just confessed that he and Tamerlan Tsarnaev had participated in the September 2011 murder of three people in Waltham.

"The contents of Todashev's computer, which will take time to analyze, likely will help to fill important gaps in the story about 'radicalization' of the Tsarnaev brothers,'' the defense wrote in a footnote. "This is important to the defense not because of any putative connection to the Waltham murders.''

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Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 21, could face the death penalty for setting off the bombs at the Marathon finish line on April 15, 2013, killing three people, injuring more than 260, and sending the area into a week of terror.

He and Tamerlan also allegedly shot and killed Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier before attempting to flee the area. Tamerlan was later killed in a confrontation with police in Watertown.

Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty to all charges and has been held at the federal prison at Fort Devens in Central Massachusetts. He is defended by Judy Clarke, David Bruck, Miriam Conrad, Timothy Watkins, and William Fick.


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