The FBI Doesn’t Want to Protect the Tsarnaev Family Longer than It Has To

Prosecutors asked that the defense call the Tsarnaev family witnesses before Friday.

Associated Press

Associated Press

The FBI sounds tired of protecting the family members of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, some of whom are in town to testify in his defense, and their complaint reveals an interesting aspect of the government’s role in the Tsarnaev’s defense: they’re paying to transport and protect the witnsesses. According to the Boston Globe:

Prosecutors in the death penalty trial of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev said the FBI has assigned 16 staffers to protect five Tsarnaev relatives from Russia and demanded they take the stand this week, according to a court transcript.

“It’s an enormous expense and distraction for the agency, and that’s just part of the expense that the government has endured,” said prosecutor William Weinreb during the closed door meeting Monday with the defense and US District Court Judge George O’Toole.

The prosecutors warned the FBI plans to send the family members home on Friday as scheduled whether or not they’d testified, and defense lawyers confirmed that they expect to call the witnesses in time for their departure. The FBI’s pressure comes because the cost of bringing those witnesses into the country and protecting them comes from federal funds allocated to the defense. In general, the defense has to convince a judge that the witnesses it wants brought in and, if necessary, protected are particularly important and, thus, worth the expense.

In this case, the witnesses are family members of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, though just which relatives remains unclear. Experts suggest that the family members, many of whom reside in the Russian region of Dagestan will attempt to humanize him by describing his turbulent childhood and relationship with his brother. All this comes in an attempt to convince the jury to spare Tsarnaev’s life.

Given their relationship to a convicted terrorist, their presence in the Boston area presents some obvious concerns. The witnesses have been moved around a bit since arriving in Boston. A media scrum figured out that they were staying in a Revere hotel near Logan. WBZ reported that guests began canceling their reservations. After the scrutiny, they’ve since been relocated to an undisclosed location. According to the Globe, defense lawyers said in court transcripts that their limited access to the witnesses has made it hard to prepare them in time for the Thursday deadline. But the lawyers confirmed that they will likely take the stand.

All this is important to watch because if the family members don’t testify, and Tsarnaev is sentenced to death, this business might come up in an appeal. Defense lawyers could argue the government didn’t do enough to accommodate the Tsarnaev defense and let the jury hear all the relevant mitigating factors that might have convinced it to save Tsarnaev’s life. Whether we see Tsarnaev relatives on the stand tomorrow, then, might remain important long into Tsarnaev’s future.