BOSTON — Lawyers for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev say a remark he made to his sister during a prison visit was meant to be funny and wasn’t incriminating, as prosecutors have suggested.
In court documents filed Wednesday, Tsarnaev’s lawyers responded to a claim by prosecutors that Tsarnaev made a remark “to his detriment” while his sister was visiting him. The remark was overheard by an FBI agent who was in the room monitoring the visit because of special prison restrictions placed on Tsarnaev.
Neither side has revealed what Tsarnaev said, but are arguing over whether to lift the monitoring restrictions that his lawyers say limit his interactions with people helping his defense team.
His lawyers say the comment was “jocular” or “gently mocking” the purported security concerns that prompted the prison restrictions, known as “special administrative measures.” They say he has not made any statements related to the charges against him during visits with his sisters.
Tsarnaev faces the possibility of the death penalty in the deadly bombing last April. Prosecutors allege that Tsarnaev, 20, and his brother, Tamerlan, 26, built two pressure-cooker bombs and placed them near the finish line of the marathon. The twin explosions killed three people and injured more than 260.
Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty to 30 federal charges. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died following a shootout with police several days after the marathon.
Tsarnaev’s lawyers say that prosecutors’ reference to Tsarnaev’s allegedly damaging remark “has unleashed a wave of unwarranted and prejudicial public speculation” about the comment.
They called the prosecution’s claim 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,” Tsarnaev’s lawyers said in their response to the government’s filing.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz declined to comment. Tsarnaev’s trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 3.