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Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to learn if he faces death in January

Reuters

BOSTON -- Accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will not learn until late January whether the U.S. government wants to execute him if he is convicted in one of the largest attacks on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001.

Federal prosecutors in Boston, by the end of October, will pass on to the Justice Department in Washington their recommendation on whether to seek the death penalty. Attorney General Eric Holder will decide about 90 days after that, Assistant U.S. Attorney William Weinreb told a judge yesterday.

Prosecutors say Tsarnaev, 20, and his brother Tamerlan, 26, planted a pair of homemade pressure-cooker bombs at the race's crowded finish line on April 15, killing three people and wounding 264. Three nights later, the pair killed a university police officer, then engaged in a shootout with police that left Tamerlan dead, prosecutors contend.

Weinreb told U.S. District Judge George O'Toole that the Justice Department believed it had authority to determine when it would make the decision on whether to seek the death penalty.

"We think that six months is a reasonable time," Weinreb said.

Tsarnaev pleaded not guilty in July to 30 criminal counts.

Defense attorney Judy Clarke, a death-penalty specialist, told the court she was concerned that the prosecutors planned to decide whether to seek execution before the defense had finished reviewing the evidence.

"It's pretty stunning to say they can make a decision based on what they know without any defense input," Clarke said. "They may have an erroneous story."

O'Toole warned attorneys that he planned to review all requests to enter documents into the record under seal, which blocks them from public view.

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