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Accused Boston bomber's lawyers denied bid for private family meetings

By Scott Malone

BOSTON (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Wednesday denied a request by lawyers for the accused Boston Marathon bomber to allow them to meet jointly with their client and his sisters without having federal agents present.

Defense attorneys had argued that understanding accused bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's relations with his family would be important to making a case that he does not deserve execution if convicted of the April 15, 2013 attack, saying the presence of a federal officers prevented normal conversations.

U.S. District Judge George O'Toole instead ruled that he would approve a proposal by federal prosecutors to have a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent from outside Boston, who is not directly involved in the investigation to monitor the meetings at the prison west of Boston where Tsarnaev, 20, is being held.

Tsarnaev is the surviving member of a pair of ethnic Chechen brothers who federal prosecutors contend planted the bombs at the crowded finish line of the Boston Marathon. Three people were killed and 264 others injured. Prosecutors also say that three days later the brothers shot dead a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer. Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty to the charges. His trial scheduled to begin in November. Defense attorneys also face a Wednesday deadline to make their case to move the trial outside of Boston.

U.S. laws generally require a person accused of a crime to stand trial in the district where it was committed. Defendants can seek to have proceedings moved to another location where potential jurors may have been less influenced by pretrial publicity. Another judge at U.S. District Court in Boston last month rejected a bid to move out of state the upcoming trials of three friends of Tsarnaev accused of interfering with the investigation by taking a laptop and backpack from his dormitory room. That judge, Douglas Woodlock, suggested the trial could move to Springfield, Massachusetts, about 90 miles (145 km) west of Boston, in the event of difficulty in choosing a jury, though he said he regarded that as unlikely. Defense attorneys have also asked for officials at the prison west of Boston where Tsarnaev is being held to allow him to meet jointly with his lawyers and family members without the presence of an agent involved in the prosecution.

Tsarnaev's 26-year-old brother, Tamerlan, died after a gunbattle with police three days after the bombing.

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Grant McCool)

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