- Associated Press - Saturday, December 20, 2014

BOSTON (AP) - The Boston Marathon bombing suspect returned to court for the first time in a year and a half, 14 people were indicted for their roles in a deadly nationwide meningitis outbreak, and a court overturned taxpayer-funded sex reassignment surgery for a convicted murderer.

Here’s what you need to know in Massachusetts this week:


Dzhokhar Tsarnaev appeared in court for the first time since he was arraigned in July 2013 on 30 federal charges stemming from the bombings at the marathon finish line that killed three people and wounded more than 260. Tsarnaev, whose trial starts Jan. 5, had a scruffy beard and a curly hairstyle similar to the one seen in earlier photos. Survivors packed the courtroom, including one who had a testy exchange with protesters questioning if the government had captured the right man.


In 2012, more than 750 people in 20 states suddenly fell ill - about half of them with a rare fungal form of meningitis, the rest with joint or spinal infections - and 64 died after getting steroid injections, mostly for back pain. This week, federal authorities rounded up 14 people who owned or worked for New England Compounding Center in Framingham, accused of knowingly shipping the tainted medication. Authorities call it the largest criminal case ever brought in the U.S. over contaminated medicine.


Lawyers for convicted murderer Michelle Kosilek say they’re weighing whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court after a federal appeals court overturned a ruling ordering Massachusetts prison officials to provide taxpayer-funded sex-reassignment surgery for her. A divided 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the inmate born Robert Kosilek - serving a life sentence for killing spouse Cheryl Kosilek in 1990 - failed to demonstrate that prison officials violated the Eight Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment by not providing the surgery.


Massachusetts approved the first clemency requests in more than a decade, commuting the prison sentence of a woman convicted of drug charges and granting pardons to two men who had sought to expunge youthful crimes from their records. The pardons are the first since 2002; the commutation is the first since 1997. Not among them: actor Mark Wahlberg’s request for a pardon for violent assaults committed as a troubled teen in Boston in 1988.


A caller identifying himself as “Barack Obama, formerly of Somerville” phoned in to Gov. Deval Patrick’s final radio show. Patrick didn’t seem to believe at first that it was really the president on the line. But Obama gave himself away by mispronouncing the state’s name as “Massatoosetts” - triggering on-air laughter and some ribbing from Patrick. Obama lived in Somerville while attending Harvard Law School. Patrick leaves office on Jan. 8 after eight years as Massachusetts’ first black governor.

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