BOSTON – Lawyers for a friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev asked a judge Wednesday to allow potential jurors to be questioned on their attitudes about Muslims and a host of other questions designed to root out bias against their client.
Tsarnaev's friend Azamat Tazhayakov, 20, is charged with impeding the investigation into the 2013 bombing, which killed three people and wounded more than 260. He and another friend are accused of removing items from Tsarnaev's dorm room at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth days after the bombing.
Tazhayakov is not charged with participating in the bombing or knowing about it in advance. But his lawyers said during a pretrial hearing Wednesday that they are concerned about bias against him because of his relationship with Tsarnaev and the impact of the bombings.
Jury selection is set to begin Monday. Tazhayakov is the first of four friends of the suspects in the bombing to go to trial. They are charged with impeding the investigation in some way or lying to investigators.
Authorities say Tsarnaev, then 19, and his brother, Tamerlan, planted two pressure cooker bombs near the finish line of the marathon, an attack they saw as retaliation for U.S. actions in Muslim countries. Dzhokhar has pleaded not guilty and awaits trial; Tamerlan was killed in a shootout with police.
Tazhayakov, of Kazakhstan, came to the United States on a student visa to attend UMass-Dartmouth. His lawyers asked U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock to probe attitudes about Muslims, his country of origin and students from other countries who come to the U.S. to attend college.
Both prosecutors and Tazhayakov's lawyers asked Woodlock to include a question asking potential jurors if they know anyone who was wounded in the bombings.
Woodlock scheduled another hearing Thursday to finalize the juror questionnaire.
Tazhayakov's lawyers also asked Woodlock to consider sequestering jurors once they begin deliberating the case.
Attorney Matthew Meyers noted the extensive media coverage and said once jurors begin deliberating, there is an increased danger that they will go online and see something about the case.
Woodlock, however, said he trusts jurors to follow his instructions to avoid media coverage.
"I'm disinclined (to sequester jurors) unless there's a truly compelling reason," he said.
Woodlock also scolded Tazhayakov's attorneys for telling reporters this week that Tazhayakov had rejected a plea deal offered by prosecutors. The judge said local rules limit attorneys from talking outside court about a case during trial.
"I understand counsel want to be accommodating to the media, but you'd better comply with the rules," he said.