Federal judge added to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trial
by RICHARD BRODERICK
A federal judge was added to the Boston Marathon bombing trial, a move defense lawyers said would give them more flexibility in asking more questions of potential government witnesses, but an official said it was too early to know if any changes to the trial schedule would result from the decision.
The decision was made at the request of attorneys for alleged bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who are seeking a change in venue from Suffolk County Superior Court, where more than 50 potential witnesses have been questioned so far.
Federal District Court Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. was assigned the case Tuesday, two weeks after defense lawyers for Tsarnaev said they needed more help in identifying jurors and making sure potential witnesses understand their roles in the trial.
“The Government is pleased to add Judge O’Toole to the trial. He has spent many years presiding over terrorism trials and has extensive experience with venue issues,” Daniel Epps, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said in a statement.
O’Toole, the former chief judge of the U.S. District Court for Massachusetts, was a federal prosecutor from 1978 to 1981, during the U.S. effort to force Iraq to release the American hostages who were being held at the American Embassy in Tehran. He was nominated to the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan in 1986.
Three people were killed and more than 260 others were wounded in the April 15, 2013, bombing.
The trial is scheduled to begin June 3. Defense attorneys have said they may be ready for jury selection by late April.
The trial is being held in Boston because Tsarnaev’s attorneys are seeking a change of venue in order to move the case out of the highly publicized coastal city where the bombs exploded and a judge approved that move.
The trial judge, Denise Casper, agreed to move the trial, arguing that more than 8 million people live in the Boston area. Tsarnaev is a U.S. citizen who lives in the central Massachusetts city of Cambridge.
Lawyers for the 21-year-old defendant in the largest mass-casualty attack on U.S. soil since 9/11 have argued that the Islamic State group or al-Qaida could strike at the trials.
In a court filing, defense attorneys pointed to Islamic State attacks in Paris and Brussels, and to news reports suggesting that the militant group is encouraging supporters to carry out attacks on U.S. soil. They also cited a 2013 Boston Marathon bombing trial in which three people were killed.
Tsarnaev was 18 when he and his older brother, Tamerlan, set off bombs near the marathon finish line. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died following a gunfight with police three days after the bombing.
Federal prosecutors have charged Dzhokhar Tsarnaev with 30 federal crimes, including use of a weapon of mass destruction, murder and other crimes, in connection with the bombing. He has pleaded not guilty.
Information from: The Boston Globe, http://www.bostonglobe.com