Federal prosecutors working on the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing case filed a protective order Monday in hopes of preventing alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev from being able to see autopsy photos of the bombing victims.
By law, the defense team has the right to view all the evidence that is found by either the prosecutors or the defense lawyers during the discovery phase of the trial, but prosecutors want to keep Tsarnaev from unnecessarily seeing autopsy photos other than the ones that will be presented in court. U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, the prosecutor who filed the motion, is arguing that Tsarnaev viewing the photos would be further hurting the families of the deceased.
“Tsarnaev has no need to review personally the many photos that will not be used against him, and that allowing him to do so would violate the victims’ rights to dignity and privacy and subject them to needless harm and suffering,” states the prosecutors’ motion.
U.S. District Court Judge George O’Toole has set a trial date of Nov. 3 where it will be decided if the alleged Boston Marathon bomber will receive the death penalty or a lifetime prison sentence, as the bombings resulted in three deaths and over 260 injuries.
The prosecutors said allowing the alleged bomber to view the photos of those who tragically died would be putting the families of the victims through more pain.
“Allowing photos of the mutilated bodies of the victims to be viewed by the man accused of mutilating them would needlessly revictimize the family members in the same way that innocent children who are photographed pornographically are revictimized whenever those photos are seen by others,” said the prosecutors in the motion.
David Rossman, criminal law professor at Boston University, said he thinks the prosecutors do not have much basis in filing this motion because defendants have a legal right to participate in the preparation of their defense.
“The only precedent for preventing defendants from getting the information that the lawyers have is on a public safety basis, so if you might be afraid that someone would be in danger if he had access to the information,” he said. “Just causing emotional distress would really extend the idea of restricting a defendant’s access to information that his lawyers think he needs way beyond what courts have already recognized … it’s a bit of a stretch.”
Rossman said the defendants have the right to see all the evidence.
“Defense attorneys want to see everything that’s coming down, so that they’re not surprised,” he said. “I don’t know why the defense might use them, but it certainly bears on the question of whether the defendant deserves the death penalty because the manner by which he killed them is something the jury can take into account.”
Several residents said they have very mixed views on the topic. Some said his viewing of the autopsy photos could not be denied because it is his legal right, whereas others said this should be a special circumstance due to the reverberating effects of the tragedy.
“I can definitely see why the prosecution team would want to prevent him from seeing that,” said Margaret Shin, 46, of the West End. “But if it is a right that has been granted in every other murder case, then this one can’t really be any different.”
Dawn Chambers, 45, of Dorchester, said it would be unethical to allow Tsarnaev to see these photos if he didn’t need to.
“This is really a moral question of whether we should allow the bomber to relive what he caused,” she said. “Maybe it should be up to the families whether he sees the pictures or not, if it’s a matter of how it’ll effect the victims’ families.”
Steve Jonas, 60, of Beacon Hill, said although he felt for the families, there was not much basis in this motion.
“It’s incredibly sad and a horrible event,” he said. “But it is his right, no matter what people feel … and I don’t really see how this would cause so much extra pain for the people when they already went through what they went through.”