Boston Bomber Trial Set For November 3rd

Dzhokar Tsarnaev

The date for the trial of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokar Tsarnaev has been set:

BOSTON — A federal judge here on Wednesday set Nov. 3 as the start of the trial for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is accused of the deadly bombing of the Boston Marathon last year.

Prosecutors say Mr. Tsarnaev, 20, worked with his older brother, Tamerlan, to place two pressure-cooker bombs near the finish line of the marathon on April 15, 2013. The explosions killed three people and wounded more than 260.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed following a shootout with the police later that week; Dzhokar was captured and charged last summer in a 30-count terrorism indictment, to which he pleaded not guilty. He is being held at a federal medical prison center at Fort Devens, Mass., and did not attend the hearing.

Last month, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. authorized prosecutors to seek the death penalty.

The trial date, which was set by District Judge George A. O’Toole during a hearing on Wednesday morning, is far earlier than the fall 2015 trial date that was requested by Mr. Tsarnaev’s defense team.

During the hearing, Mr. Tsarnaev’s lawyers argued that they were struggling to obtain all the evidence they need to prepare for trial — including 2,000 pieces of evidence at an F.B.I. lab in Quantico, Va.

“It’s not the defense dragging their feet,” said Judy Clark, a member of Mr. Tsarnaev’s defense team with expertise in death penalty cases. “It’s that we’re really struggling getting access and information.”

The prosecution team said they were making relevant evidence — including 67 terabytes of digital evidence — available to the defense.

Mr. O’Toole also set a June deadline for the defense to file a change-of-venue motion.

Given that this is a death penalty case, there is a possibility that the trial date may end up being continued at some point of the defense can convince the Judge that they need additional time to prepare, but such continuances are rare in criminal defense trials. The other possibility is that we may see a plea bargain in this case, although the only thing on the table would be removing the death penalty in exchange for Tsarnaev pleading guilty, agreeing to a life sentence without the possibility of parole, and telling prosecutors and investigators everything he knows about the plot to bomb the marathon. Of course, it’s also eminently clear that the only realistic goal that the defense has in this case is to get past a death penalty given that there is no question that Tsarnaev is guilty of the underlying offenses and its unlikely that a jury would find him not guilty regardless of what venue the case is tried in.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Law and the Courts, National Security, Policing, Terrorism, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    Yeah, this is going to go badly for Mr. Tsarnaev. I must rouse out my best magnifying glass and see whether I can find an iota of pity.

  2. CSK says:

    He’s got a fifteen-count state indictment against him, too, out of the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office. They want to try him for the murder of Sean Collier, the attempted murder of a number of cops, and kidnapping.

  3. @CSK:

    Timothy McVeigh was also indicted at the state level for the Oklahoma City bombing. I don’t believe they ever got around to trying him on those charges before he was executed, though. McVeigh’s co-conspirator, Terry Nichols, who managed to avoid a Federal death penalty sentence, was tried at the state level though. He’s currently serving out his life w/o parole sentence at one of the Federal Super Max prisons.

  4. Gustopher says:

    I’m opposed to the death penalty in all cases — I don’t believe that our legal system applies it uniformly, I don’t believe we carry it out humanely, and I don’t think that killing people should be a state function.

    That said, there are lots of other injustices in the world to get worked up about, and if this kid gets a needle in his arm, well… food banks are really hurting, and that’s going to affect a lot more lives, particularly of that key not-homicidal demographic we want to encourage.

  5. Tyrell says:

    I am surprised that the death penalty issue has not made it back to the Supreme Court, but I expect it will in the next few years. The uniformity issue, problems of evidence, and other improper trial problems. Scarcely a week goes by when DNA evidence doesn’t clear someone who has been locked up for years, or is used to finally bring someone to justice. It makes one wonder how many capital cases from years past were decided wrongly but it is now too late.
    I am not some soft on crime person. Lock ’em up and throw away the key.

    “I’m stuck in Folsom Prison, and time keeps draggin’ on” (Cash, “Folsom Prison”)

  6. gVOR08 says:

    I got myself out of a capital case jury several years ago. (If you’re a logically minded engineer, it’s really easy to get off a jury). When push came to shove, I was having trouble seeing a great moral difference between what the prosecutors said he did to his wife under emotional stress and what they, in cold blood, were trying to do to him.

  7. CSK says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    My guess is that if he cops a plea in federal court and gets a life sentence without parole, Middlesex will try him. If he cops another plea in state court, which would be likely after the first, he’ll get another life sentence without parole on the murder of Sean Collier, and the longest possible sentences for the other charges.

    If the federal case goes to trial, the jury will see the surveillance photo of Tsarnaev planting the bomb in directly in front of the little boy at the finish line and then walking away smirking. They won’t be in a forgiving mood.