New York - A federal judge said Wednesday that he may allow the Boston marathon bombing suspect to meet with his family without the presence of the federal agents investigating his case, a local newspaper reported.
But Judge George O'Toole indicated that another agent not involved in the case could be assigned to monitor those meetings, according to the Boston Globe.
Defence lawyers for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev have been pushing for the change, saying in order to build their defence against the terrorism charges, they need him to be able to speak freely about whether he had been influenced by his older brother.
Tsarnaev, who was 19 at the time, and his older brother Tamerlan are accused of having detonated two home-made bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon in April 2013. Three people died and dozens more were maimed, including loss of limbs, in the attack.
Tamerlan, who was 26, was killed during the police chase afterwards. O'Toole rejected a suggestion by prosecutors that for security reasons, FBI agents who are working on the case need to observe Tsarnaev's meetings with his family.
The precaution “I don't think the safety, security issue looms very large,” O'Toole said in court.
He said the government could assign an agent who is not on the Tsarnaev case to be present during family meetings. The final decision will be issued in two weeks, O'Toole said. Defence attorneys say they need to understand the “story” of the Tsarnaevs to present their arguments.
They plan to suggest that Tsarnaev was under the influence of Tamerlan when they allegedly carried out the bombing. The defence team has suggested that Tamerlan was “a committed, proven killer,” who might have made his younger brother fear him, according to the Globe.
The Tsarnaev family's ethnic origins tie them to Chechnya, a hotbed of Muslim militancy, and they had lived in an area of unrest in the Caucusus, Dagestan, before immigrating to the United States about 10 years ago.
Their mother, Zubeidat, who returned to Dagestan some years ago, has said she believes her sons were framed and that what appeared to be blood at the finish line was red paint. A security officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was gunned down by the brothers during the chase.
More than 260 others were injured in the April 15, 2013, bombing.
Boston is preparing to once again host its classic marathon on Monday, under severely tightened security. Tsarnaev is charged with 30 counts, 17 of which carry maximum penalties of death or life in prison.
He also faces state charges in the killing of the security officer. The charges include use of weapons of mass destruction and bombing a public place resulting in death.
He has pleaded not guilty to all charges. Wednesday was the first time in two months that prosecutors and defence lawyers faced off in court. Tsarnaev was not present in the courtroom.
The next hearing is set for June 18.