A federal judge in Boston on Wednesday rebuffed prosecutors' efforts to keep tabs on Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev during prison visits with his family, saying the conversations don't have to be monitored by an FBI agent.
Defense attorneys argued in court that Tsarnaev's family should be able to speak freely during the visits so attorneys can see the "story" of the Tsarnaev family, the Boston Globe reported Wednesday.
"I don't think the safety, security issue looms very large," U.S. District Judge George O'Toole Jr. said during a motions hearing in federal court. O'Toole said the FBI agent's presence wasn't needed for security.
Defense attorneys for the 20-year-old are attempting to build a case on the complexity of Tsarnaev's fraught and allegedly violent family relationships. "This case is very much a story about a family and the relationships between them," defense attorney David Bruck told the judge.
Tsarnaev was not present at the hearing, the Globe reported. The judge also ruled that Tsarnaev could see autopsy photos of bombing victims despite prosecutors' arguments that allowing him to see them would violate the victims' privacy and subject their families to needless suffering. O'Toole set another hearing for June 18.
The judge also said he'd consider another defense request to admit a suspect's statement to police that implicated Tsarnaev's older brother, Tamerlan, in a 2011 triple homicide in Waltham, Mass. The statement, from one of the older brother's friends, Ibragim Todashev, allegedly implicated Todashev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev in the drug-related killings of three men. Law enforcement agents killed Todashev during a struggle as they questioned him in his Orlando apartment after the marathon bombings.
Attorneys with the federal public defender's office in Boston are defending the younger Tsarnaev, who was 19 at the time of the April 15, 2013, bombings. They have indicated that they plan to suggest he was under the influence of his 26-year-old brother when they allegedly committed the attack that killed three people and injured more than 260. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a shootout with police four days after the explosions.
Defense attorneys have said in court filings that Tamerlan "supplied the motivation, planning, and ideology" behind the attack and that Dzhokar's awareness of the 2011 triple homicide could suggest that he "experienced his older brother as an all-powerful force who could not be ignored or disobeyed."
The push to include Todashev's statement is likely an attempt to avoid the death penalty. Of the 30 counts in the younger Tsarnaev's June 27, 2013, federal indictment, 17 carry the possibility that he could be put to death if convicted.
Attorney General Eric Holder last year called for restrictions on Tsarnaev's contact with others, saying there was "a substantial risk" that his "communications or contacts with persons could result in death or serious bodily injury" to others.
Wednesday's hearing came hours after Boston police arrested a 25-year-old man near the marathon finish line who was carrying a backpack containing a rice cooker. The man's mother told the Associated Press on Wednesday that her son, Kevin "Kayvon" Edson, has bipolar disorder. He was scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday on a charge of possession of a hoax device, but authorities say more charges may be added.
Edson was stopped late Tuesday by an officer who saw him acting suspiciously, including walking barefoot down the middle of a street, veiled in black, in pouring rain, police Superintendent Randall Halstead said. The man dropped the backpack and told the officer it contained a rice cooker, he said. The backpack was destroyed.
The arrest came hours after ceremonies to mark the one-year anniversary of the bombings.