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Boston Marathon bombing trial to begin this November

Published time: February 12, 2014 16:52
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (AFP Photo / FBI)

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (AFP Photo / FBI)

A United States federal court judge ruled early Wednesday that the trial of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will commence later this year, defying requests from defense attorneys to postpone proceedings until at least 2015.

District Court Judge George O'Toole for the US District of Massachusetts said Wednesday morning that the high-profile terrorist case that could end with Tsarnaev being sentenced to die will tentatively start on November 3, 2014.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Glenn DePriest / Getty Images / AFP)

Tsarnaev, 20, is accused of plotting and participating in one of the largest domestic acts of terrorism ever on American soil and will face the death penalty if convicted once his trial finally gets underway.

Federal prosecutors say that Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, orchestrated the tragedy at last year’s Boston Marathon footrace in April that left three people dead and more than 260 others injured. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, died during a shootout with police several days later while on the run from authorities. The surviving brother was apprehended shortly thereafter and has been in federal custody ever since. He was not present during Wednesday’s hearing.

Two weeks ago, US Attorney General Eric Holder said the government wants Tsarnaev executed if he’s convicted of those crimes by jury.

“After consideration of the relevant facts, the applicable regulations and the submissions made by the defendant’s counsel, I have determined that the United States will seek the death penalty in this matter,” he said earlier this month. "The nature of the conduct at issue and the resultant harm compel this decision."

Now just days later, defense attorneys have been dealt another major blow. Tsarnaev’s counsel filed paperwork on Monday this week asking for the court to wait until at least mid-November to let the defense file an objection to Holder’s death penalty decision. Under that proposal pre-trial hearings would continue through early 2015, pushing the actual start-day as far back as sometime in 2016.

Defense attorneys were expected to ask the court during Wednesday’s hearing to give them until September 2015 to prepare for trial, Reuters reported that morning, but Judge O’Toole ultimately elected to schedule proceedings to start in only nine months.

Investigators stand at the scene of twin bombings at the Boston Marathon on April 17, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images / AFP)

David Frank — the managing editor of Massachusetts Lawyer Weekly and an attorney unaffiliated with the case — tweeted afterward that in his opinion the Nov. 2 trial date “is totally unrealistic [and] will never happen."

“There's no chance that is going to happen. None,” he tweeted. “The judge probably knows full well that 11/3/14 isn't a realistic trial date but sets it in part to keep things moving along.”

The defense now has until June 18, 2014 to submit the paperwork to have a change of venue request considered by Judge O’Toole, but further delays along the way could postpone proceedings further. Defense attorneys argued during Wednesday’s hearing that the government has been far from forthcoming with providing access to the prosecution’s discovery, and Frank quoted O’Toole as saying he’d push back the case if the feds keep from cooperating.