The lawyers defending Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are dealing with federal budget cuts that will force them to take three unpaid weeks off even as they prepare to defend one of the most complicated criminal cases in the nation.
The office of federal defender Miriam Conrad in Boston was appointed to represent Tsarnaev, who is charged with using a weapon of mass destruction to kill in the April 15 bombings. Her office must complete 15 days of furloughs between April and the end of September because of cuts of around 10 percent. Conrad has also asked that two death penalty lawyers be appointed.
Other federal defenders interviewed Wednesday said the defense could cost millions of dollars, given the amount of evidence to examine, the huge amount of federal resources being expended and the possibility that the government will pursue the death penalty.
The office will have to pay for investigators, experts, psychologists and others, said Geoff Cheshire, an assistant federal public defender from Arizona. He said it is crucial to ensure Tsarnaev has a robust defense. That was the case for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, who was convicted and sentenced to death.
“You saw a real deflation of the extremist elements following what most saw as a fair trial,” he said.
Conrad told The Associated Press on Wednesday it was too early to tell what the impact of the furloughs would be on Tsarnaev’s case. But in an interview with the AP weeks before the bombing, she warned that they could hurt the cause of justice and devastate her office.
“This is an essential function to represent people accused of crimes, and if it’s cut, people still are going to need lawyers,” she said at the time, adding that her office was already understaffed.
Conrad is extraordinary lawyer, said Michael Nachmanoff, a federal public defender in Virginia. But he said every conceivable law enforcement resource will be thrown at the case, while Conrad tries to manage cuts.
Nachmanoff said the legal system is one of the things that makes the country great, and it must be protected.
“We are all better off when the system works,” he said. “Particularly for someone who is despised.”