The Boston Marathon bombing suspect, in his first court appearance in more than a year, told a judge on Thursday that he was satisfied with his lawyers' preparations for the January start of his trial over the deadly 2013 attack.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 21, was dressed in a dark sweater and wore his hair shaggy for his appearance at U.S. District Court, where he will be tried on charges of killing three people and injuring more than 260 with two homemade bombs at the race's crowded finish line on April 15, 2013, as well as fatally shooting a university police officer three days later.
The defendant, who had grown a light beard, appeared in a courtroom packed with victims, supporters and curious onlookers.
Tsarnaev looked alert and healthy, showing no signs of the injuries suffered during a gunbattle with police on the night of April 18, 2013, that ended with the death of his brother, Tamerlan, also accused with playing a role in the attack. In his prior court appearance, in July 2013, Tsarnaev's left arm was in a cast and his face appeared swollen.
U.S. District Judge George O'Toole asked Tsarnaev if he was satisfied with his defense attorneys in a series of questions intended to avoid any post-trial assertions that he was not provided a proper defense.
"Yes, your honor," Tsarnaev replied briefly to questions about whether his attorneys were keeping him abreast of court developments. He looked somewhat fidgety during the 25-minute hearing.
O'Toole also said that many of the court documents filed under seal ahead of the trial will be made public after the jury is seated in January.
Tsarnaev faces the possibility of execution if convicted in a trial that is expected to run for three months. The court plans to weed through more than 1,000 people to find 12 jurors and six alternates to hear the case.
At the hearing's conclusion, Elena Teyer, 45, whose son-in-law Ibragim Todashev was fatally shot by FBI agents in Florida during an interview about his friendship with Tamerlan Tsarnaev in the weeks after the bombing, shouted support to Tsarnaev in Russian.
Outside court, she translated her words for reporters as "Dzhokhar, we know you're innocent ... stay strong, son."
A resident of Savannah, Georgia, Teyer said she had traveled to Boston specifically for the hearing.
"You know how hard it is when you have no one near you who is going to support you," Teyer said.
Thursday's hearing is the final pre-trial conference in Tsarnaev's case. In the weeks leading up to the trial, prosecutors and defense attorneys are disputing a range of issues including how much they must disclose about the witnesses they plan to call.
The Tsarnaev brothers had moved to the United States from Russia's restive Chechnya region a decade before the attack.
Dzhokhar left a scrawled note inside the dry-docked boat where he was captured in Watertown, Massachusetts, a day after the shootout, indicating that the marathon attack had been motivated by U.S. military campaigns in Muslim countries.
Tsarnaev's attorneys had asked that the trial be held outside Boston, contending that since hundreds of thousands of spectators attend the Boston Marathon, it would be all but impossible to find an impartial panel of people who had not been present the day of the attack or known someone who had been.
O'Toole had previously denied that request, noting the court had recently seated juries in other high-profile cases, including the 2013 trial of former mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger, who was found guilty of racketeering and murder.
On his way into court, one of the bombing's victims, Marc Fucarile, confronted a small group of protesters who asserted the evidence of the bombing was fabricated. Fucarile grabbed the prosthetic limb that replaced the right leg he lost in the bombing, saying he considered that proof enough.
Asked about the incident, Fucarile said, "They have a right to their opinion, same as anybody else."