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By Richard A. Serrano, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhohkar Tsarnaev appeared in U.S. court Thursday for the first time in a year and a half as a federal judge held a final hearing to discuss last-minute issues before the trial begins Jan. 5.

For the second time, the defense asked Judge George O’Toole Jr. to move the trial out of Boston, saying negative publicity in the area would make it impossible for Tsarnaev to receive a fair trial. The defense also asked the judge to order an investigation into alleged government leaks in the case. O’Toole made no rulings but signaled he will issue formal orders later.

Security was tight around the courthouse as Tsarnaev arrived and during the brief hearing. Defense lawyers and government prosecutors also discussed jury questionnaires and other trial-related arrangements.

At one point during the hearing, the mother-in-law of a Tsarnaev friend who was shot to death by an FBI agent in Florida shouted out her support for the defendant, according to ABC News. Elena Teyer, whose son Ibragim Todashev was killed in Florida after allegedly attacking an FBI agent during an interview, said she told Tsarnaev in Russian: “We prayed for you. Be strong, my son. We know you are innocent.”

Some 1,200 potential jurors will be called to the courthouse, and jury selection alone could last a month. Tsarnaev faces 30 charges in the April 2013 attack that killed three people dead and injured another 260.

The government is seeking the death penalty.

There were no outward signs of a plea agreement, which some had expected. Nearly 90 percent of the case is sealed, making it virtually impossible to determine which side – the defense or the government – has prevailed in nearly two years of pre-trial skirmishes.

AFP Photo

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