Attorneys for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev say that what prosecutors have called a damaging statement he made during a prison visit with his sister was actually just a humorous remark.
The attorneys say that Tsarnaev has not made any statements “concerning the substance of the charges against him during visits with his sisters.”
The attorneys called prosecutors’ description of Tsarnaev’s statement as “detrimental” to his case a “red herring.”
“Apparently, if Mr. Tsarnaev appears to be lighthearted in interactions with his sisters, this will be spun into an argument that he should be executed because he lacks remorse and is insufficiently serious about his predicament or his actions. On the other hand, if Mr. Tsarnaev appears impassive or subdued, those observations also likely will be characterized as evidence that Mr. Tsarnaev is cold-hearted and more deserving of the death penalty, defense attorneys said in a filing today in US District Court in Boston.
Defense attorneys are battling with prosecutors over special restrictions that have been placed on Tsarnaev in the federal prison facility at Devens where he is being held. Prosecutors say the restrictions are necessary due to security concerns, while defense attorneys say they are interfering with their preparations for their case. One restriction the defense wants lifted is monitoring of family visits by an FBI agent.
In a recent filing, prosecutors said that an agent, present at a meeting between Tsarnaev and his sister, along with an investigator from the defense, overheard him making a statement “to his detriment.” What Tsarnaev allegedly said has not been disclosed by the prosecution or defense.
The defense said in its filing today that “on one occasion, as the [special restrictions] were being explained to one of his sisters [by the investigator], in an effort to put her at ease, Mr. Tsarnaev made a comment that might be characterized as jocular or gently mocking toward the purported security concerns that underlie the [restrictions] on repeating his statements to others.”
“The government’s insistence on the presence of an agent who is working directly with the prosecution trial team suggests that the government is intent on securing yet another litigation advantage in a case in which its resources — both legal and financial — already dwarf those of the defense,” the defense said.
Tsarnaev, 20, faces a host of federal charges in the April 15 terror bombings near the Marathon finish line that killed three people and wounded 260 others. Prosecutors are seeking to impose the death penalty, if he is convicted. He also faces state charges in the slaying of an MIT police officer several days after the bombings.
Tsarnaev’s brother, Tamerlan, 26, allegedly joined in the bombings. He was killed in a confrontation with police in Watertown as the two tried to flee the area after the MIT officer’s killing. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured later the same day hiding in a boat stored in a Watertown back yard.
Authorities say Tsarnaev had been inspired by Al Qaeda publications and had allegedly scrawled in a note on the boat that he had acted because “the US government is killing our innocent civilans. … We Muslims are one body; you hurt one, you hurt us all.”