BOSTON (AP) — Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev returned to court Thursday for the first time since he was arraigned in July 2013, and he received a shout of encouragement from the mother-in-law of a man who was shot and killed while being questioned by law enforcement after the bombings.
Security was tight at the federal courthouse in Boston for Tsarnaev's final pretrial conference.
Even before the hearing began, tensions ran high. Outside the courthouse, a man who lost his right leg in the bombings had a testy exchange with a small group of protesters holding signs supporting Tsarnaev and questioning whether authorities have proof that he is responsible for the bombings.
Marc Fucarile held up his prosthetic leg and moved it back and forth toward the demonstrators, saying: "That's proof right there."
One of the demonstrators said to Fucarile: "You should care that they get the right guy."
Fucarile replied: "Get a life, lady. Go to work."
Three people were killed and more than 260 were injured when two bombs exploded near the finish line of the April 2013 marathon. Tsarnaev, who has pleaded not guilty to 30 federal charges, faces the possibility of the death penalty if he is convicted.
During the brief court hearing, U.S. District Court George O'Toole Jr. made no rulings, saying he would rule in writing on pending motions, including the defense's latest push to move the trial out of Boston.
David Bruck, one of Tsarnaev's lawyers, told the judge that the defense plans to file a motion to delay the trial, which is now scheduled to begin on Jan. 5 with jury selection. Bruck did not say how long of a delay the defense will seek.
The mother-in-law of Ibragim Todashev called out to Tsarnaev in Russian in the courtroom. Elena Teyer said she told him: "We pray for you. Be strong, my son. We know you are innocent."
Later, in English, she yelled to the law enforcement officers escorting her out of the room: "Stop killing innocent people. Stop killing innocent boys."
Tsarnaev never flinched or acknowledged the shouts.
Tsarnaev, 21, wore a black sweater and gray trousers and had a scruffy beard and a mop top hairstyle similar to the one seen in his mug shot. He smiled to his attorneys and one patted him on the arm.
The courtroom was packed with FBI agents, police who worked on the case and more than a dozen survivors and family members.
At his last court appearance 17 months ago, Tsarnaev still bore signs of the bloody standoff with police that led to his capture and the death of his older brother, Tamerlan. His left arm was in a cast, his face was swollen and he appeared to have a jaw injury. In court Thursday, he had no visible injuries.
Tsarnaev's trial is expected to last several months, and seating a jury alone could take several weeks to a month.
Judge O'Toole questioned Tsarnaev about whether he had waived his right to appear at previous hearings. Tsarnaev answered in a clear voice: "Yes, sir."
Asked by the judge if he believes his lawyers had acted in his best interests, he said: "Very much."
Earlier this month, Tsarnaev's lawyers argued anew that "emotionally charged" media coverage and the widespread impact of the attacks have made it impossible for him to get a fair trial in Massachusetts.
O'Toole had rejected Tsarnaev's first request in September to move the trial, ruling that defense lawyers had failed to show that extensive pretrial media coverage of the bombings had prejudiced the jury pool to the point that an impartial jury could not be chosen in Boston.
Tsarnaev's lawyers previously said the trial should be moved to Washington, D.C.
O'Toole also rejected a defense request that prosecutors turn over evidence about his older brother's possible participation in a 2011 triple killing in suburban Waltham.
In May 2013, the FBI and Massachusetts State Police were questioning Todashev about that killing when an FBI agent shot and killed the 27-year-old mixed martial arts fighter inside his Orlando, Florida, home.
Officials initially said Todashev had lunged at a state trooper with a knife but later said it was a pole. Todashev's family has disputed that account.
Prosecutors have said Todashev told authorities Tamerlan Tsarnaev participated in the Waltham triple slaying in which the victims' bodies were found with their throats slit and their bodies sprinkled with marijuana.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — A state appeals court refused to dismiss a capital murder charge against an Alabama woman jailed in the running death of her 9-year-old granddaughter, potentially setting the stage for her trial early next year.
The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals rejected a challenge by Joyce Garrard, who is accused of forcing Savannah Hardin to run until she collapsed as punishment for a lie about eating candy.
Garrard, 49, of Boaz has been held since March 2012, but the court rejected defense claims that two trial delays violated her constitutional right to a speedy trial.
One of the postponements was at the judge's discretion, the appeal's court ruled, and the second was caused by a motion filed by the defense, not prosecutors.
Authorities contend Garrard forced the girl to run for hours outside her home in rural northeast Alabama. The child collapsed and died later in a hospital.
Garrard pleaded not guilty to the charge, which carries a potential death penalty, and her lawyers blame the child's death on health problems they say the girl experienced before the episode.
The girl's father has filed a malpractice lawsuit that makes claims similar to the defense arguments.
The decision by the appeals court did not address Garrard's claims about potential problems with the girl's autopsy.
The judges ruled Friday. Garrard's trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 23 in Etowah County.
The girl's stepmother also is awaiting trial on a murder charge and is accused of failing to intervene and save the child. She has pleaded not guilty.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. and Cuba will begin taking steps to restore full diplomatic relations, marking the most significant shift in U.S. policy toward the communist island in more than half a century. Key elements of changes to U.S. policy toward Cuba, some of which President Barack Obama announced at the White House this week:
WAUKESHA, Wis. (AP) — One of two girls accused of stabbing a classmate in a southeastern Wisconsin park to please a fantasy character known as Slender Man is competent to stand trial for attempted homicide, a judge ruled Thursday.
A state psychiatrist determined that the girl would be able to assist in her defense, but her attorney disputed the finding, saying he had a report from another doctor who disagreed. Both reports are sealed.
Waukesha County Circuit Judge Michael Bohren, who ruled at the end of a three-and-a-hour hearing, said that by all accounts, the girl is highly intelligent.
"I'm satisfied that the issues of age and maturity do not override her competency," the judge said. "She's competent to make the decisions that have to be made."
The decision keeps the case moving in adult court. Bohren scheduled a preliminary hearing, at which point he would have to decide whether there's enough evidence to warrant a trial, for Feb. 18 and Feb. 19.
Two psychologists, Anthony Jurek and Michael Caldwell, testified for the defense that they interviewed the girl several times. They said although she is clearly intelligent, the girl has trouble making decisions when she's bombarded with information and lacks an understanding of the nuances of the criminal justice system, including the ramifications of accepting a plea bargain.
Another psychologist, Robert Rawski, testified for the state that he found the girl to be highly capable. And Ted Szczupakiewicz, an assistant district attorney, said it appears the girl answered the defense experts' questions about the legal system correctly.
"She does understand she ... would be an important source of information for a defense attorney," Szczupakiewicz said.
Bohren scheduled a Thursday afternoon hearing to decide whether the other defendant is competent to stand trial.
Prosecutors have charged both girls with attempted first-degree intentional homicide in the attack in May in Waukesha, a city of 71,000 about 15 miles west of Milwaukee. They say the girls plotted for months to kill classmate Payton Leutner, luring her to a wooded park after a sleepover and stabbing her 19 times. After her attackers left, Leutner crawled through the woods to a sidewalk where a bicyclist found her and called 911.
The two girls charged in the case were found walking toward a national forest where they said they believed Slender Man lived in a mansion. They told investigators they believed killing Leutner would curry favor with the figure.
All three girls were 12 at the time of the attack. The girl whose competency was in question has since turned 13.
Wisconsin law requires suspects in severe crimes to be charged as adults if they are at least 10 years old. The Associated Press is not naming the girls because their attorneys have said they may still try to move their cases into juvenile court, where proceedings are closed to the public.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says the Obama administration's decision to renew diplomatic ties with Cuba won't impact immigration rules just yet.
President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that the U.S. would normalize relations with the island's Communist government and open a U.S. embassy sometime next year.
In an interview with MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell Thursday, Johnson says policy change won't impact immigration rules for now. He added that Cubans should not to try to come to the U.S. illegally.
Under current law Cubans who make it to U.S. soil, by sea or land, are generally allowed to permanently stay in the country under the so-called "wet foot, dry foot" policy. Most other immigrants face deportation if caught trying to sneak into the country.