By Scott Malone
BOSTON (Reuters) - Attorneys for the accused Boston Marathon bomber asked a judge on Monday to extend past February 28 the deadline to try to move his trial outside of Boston, saying they cannot make such a request before they know if he is facing the death penalty.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's attorneys argued in papers filed in federal court that their decision on whether to seek a change of venue will depend in part on whether the Justice Department seeks to have Tsarnaev, 20, executed if he is convicted of charges arising from the April 15 bombing.
"The attorney general is expected to announce his penalty decision by the end of January 2014," defense attorneys argued. "The media attention to that decision risks skewing public perception. As a result, data collected now, in advance of the attorney general's decision, will likely be of little use in the wake of the inevitable media saturation reporting of that decision."
U.S. laws generally require a person accused of crimes to face trial in the district where the crimes were committed, though defense attorneys may seek to have the proceedings moved to a district where potential jurors may have been less influenced by pretrial publicity.
The trial of Timothy McVeigh, for instance, who was convicted of the 1995 bombing of a federal office building in Oklahoma City, was moved to Denver.
Tsarnaev is accused of planting two homemade pressure-cooker bombs at the crowded finish line of the marathon, killing three people and injuring more than 260.
Three days later, as he and his older brother, Tamerlan, planned to flee Boston, prosecutors say, the pair killed a university police officer in an unsuccessful effort to steal his gun.
Tamerlan, 26, died in a gunfight with police later that night in Watertown, Massachusetts. Dzhokhar escaped the gun battle, prompting a day-long lockdown of much of the Boston area that ended when the wounded suspect was found hiding in a drydocked boat.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty to all charges linked to the worst mass-casualty attack on U.S. soil since 9/11.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)