The most recent status conference for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev took place Thursday, September 18, 2014 in front of Judge George O’Toole. The defense lawyers in attendance were David Bruck and Timothy Watkins; the prosecution team consisted of William Weinreb, Aloke Chakravarty, Nadine Pellegrini and the newly hired African American assistant attorney Donald Cabell.
Considering the gravity of the case, the atmosphere in the full courtroom before the judge entered was strangely chatty and jovial, almost like a cocktail party, in which employees affiliated with government and media appeared to be pleased as punch to see each other. Only the defense lawyers appeared to be taking their responsibilities towards the American people to “get at the truth” seriously.
Tsarnaev, who has not been seen since his first court hearing when he pled “Not Guilty,” was again not present for the proceeding. The prosecution stated that they want Tsarnaev to be present during the final pre-trial and for jury selection. His lawyers said they will ask him how he feels about this.
The hearing was once again an exercise in hypocrisy on the part of the government, which made clear that the prosecution is more interested in convicting the young man as soon as possible than unravelling the mystery of the bombing. They can’t let this case settle down because if the case were tried on facts rather than emotion, a conviction would not be guaranteed. The two sides do not share an even playing field.
The government has 177 FBI scientists and technicians working on this case while the defense has only a handful of lawyers that have almost no information to work with other than what the government has provided to them. Even as recently as this week the defense was flooded with more discovery from the government, which they should have received a year ago, argued defense attorney Bruck, who complained:
“The government said they were finished in September but we continue to receive matters… critical issues.”
US Attorney Weinreb, refusing to cooperate in good faith, cynically mocked defense arguments from previous hearings:
“We have received absolutely nothing,” Weinreb complained. “The defense refuses to hand over any discovery unless it will be used in court. The law needs to be interpreted in a responsible manner. The defense is gathering things at the last minute… A couple weeks after government gives discovery, the defense is supposed to respond. The government needs these materials to strategize decisions. We need to know what witness are going to say. We need reciprocal discovery.”
The defense reminded the court that this is about a human life: “It is not true that there is equivalence between the government and defense.”
In what would appear to be obstruction of justice, prosecutors refuse to hand over Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s computer data saying “Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is on trial here not his brother.”
How could Tamerlan’s information be irrelevant to the case? Didn’t the brothers supposedly bomb the marathon as a team-according to the media? Tamerlan’s computer data could potentially demonstrate that Jahar was influenced by his brother’s radicalism, but it’s quite likely the data could also potentially show that Tamerlan was not violently motivated and cast doubt on the whole scenario.
Judge O’Toole sided with the prosecution by replying to the defense, “The government needs to hand over information they won’t use?”
While the prosecutors play games, they still continue to push for a November 3 trial date. Tsarnaev’s defense insists they are “utterly unprepared for trial.” Despite the overwhelming amount of irrelevant evidence the defense attorneys have to sift through, as “Tsarnaev’s whole life has been seized by the government,” the defense still has not been advised precisely as to what the government’s actual argument is going to be.
The defense has been hard at work overseas interviewing family and people who knew Tsarnaev. This has proven to be a huge challenge since most people are afraid to speak to the attorneys, a logical fear given what has happened to any of Tsarnaev’s friends who have been willing to speak to authorities.
“We have done our best to meet the trial date. It cannot be done. The defendant has a right to a fair trial but there is a broader interest as well,” Bruck pleaded.
“The day of bombing, Obama said we will find out who did this and why. This is the question everyone wants answered. It is not in the interest of victims for there to be half a trial. We need to get to the bottom of this. There are the gravest reasons for this. It won’t help anyone for the case to be tried before evidence is fully developed.
“If the government hadn’t asked for the death penalty this would have been over a long time ago. Asking court to set date fair to the defendant,” Bruck added.
Weinreb postulated, “Question is, how much time should be allowed to get to the bottom of it. I would wager that if you give them three years they’d take three years.”
Tsarnaev’s attorneys want the trial delayed until September 2015 based on past capital cases involving Russian defendants, which took over 4 years to prepare due to the difficulty of overseas investigating potential mitigating evidence. Compared to the 119 federal death penalty cases in the past decade, the timetable to trial in this case is half the median of others.
The government is still pressuring the defense to provide a list of the arguments their expert witnesses plan to use on why the accused terrorist should live, for example mental health issues, while the defense claims that this request is unconstitutional and refuses to comply since such a list “assumes guilt.” No court has ever provided a list of mitigating factors before the jury pool, Bruck argued.
The defense continues to grapple with the countless unsubstantiated media leaks that are heavily influencing public opinion and thus tainting the future jury.