Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has “gained widespread notoriety” and received nearly 1,000 pieces of unsolicited mail while in federal custody, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. wrote in a late August memo in which he approved special restrictions on Tsarnaev’s confinement.
But defense attorneys, who are arguing for the restrictions to be eased, said the government failed to mention that Tsarnaev had not responded to the mail.
“The government also fails to mention that none of this unsolicited mail could be characterized as ‘jihadist’ in nature. Rather, it consisted almost entirely of letters and cards from individuals who believe he is innocent and people urging him to repent and convert to Christianity,” the defense attorneys said in a filing Wednesday.
Tsarnaev, 20, is being held at a federal prison at the former Fort Devens. He faces charges that could bring him the death penalty for allegedly placing the twin bombs that exploded April 15 near the Boston Marathon finish line, killing three people and injuring more than 260 others. Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan, 26, also are accused of killing an MIT police officer as they tried to escape the area.
In a 17-page ruling issued in late August, Holder found that the special restrictions should be placed on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s access to the mail, the media, the telephone, and visitors because of “Tsarnaev’s proclivity for violence” and the “substantial risk that his communications or contacts with persons could result in death or serious bodily injury to persons.”
Defense attorneys argued that the restrictions on Tsarnaev impaired their ability to represent him and that his rights to due process, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of association were being violated.
As he justified the imposition of the restrictions in the memo, Holder said, among other things, that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev — who died a few days after the attack in a shootout with police — were “inspired to commit the attack” by Anwar al-Awlaki. Awlaki, an American citizen became a senior operative in Al Qaeda’s Yemen branch before he was killed in a drone strike.
The memo alleged that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev employed “operational tradecraft” in communicating before the bombing — including purchasing a dedicated cellphone — and disposed of evidence after the attack, including discarding a remaining bomb detonator and smashing his cellphones.
The memo said that, when interviewed on April 22, several days after his April 19 capture, Tsarnaev “reaffirmed his commitment to jihad and expressed hope that his actions would inspire others to engage in violent jihad. There is no indication that Tsarnaev’s inventions have changed since.”
The memo also referred to a May 24 phone call Tsarnaev was permitted to make to his mother in Russia. She recorded the call and subsequently released portions to the media “in an apparent effort to engender sympathy for Tsarnaev,” the memo said.
Defense attorneys insisted Wednesday that the “government has not alleged that Mr. Tsarnaev has done or said anything since his arrest to commit violence, incite violence, or engage in communications that pose a security threat” so the special restrictions should be lifted.
Tsarnaev’s defense attorneys include Miriam Conrad, chief of the federal public defender’s office in Massachusetts, and Judy Clarke, a California attorney who is an expert in defending death penalty cases.