BOSTON (CBS/AP) – Boston Marathon bombings suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was in federal court Thursday morning for his first public appearance in nearly a year and a half.

Tsarnaev was brought to U.S. District Court in South Boston under heavy security before sunrise for the final status conference before his trial starts next month.

Tsarnaev, 21, had a slight beard with very shaggy hair.  He wore a white shirt with a black sweater and green pants.  He smiled to his attorneys and one patted him on the arm.

Judge George O’Toole Jr. questioned Tsarnaev about whether he had waived his right to appear at previous hearings. Tsarnaev answered in a clear voice: “Yes, sir.”

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in U.S. District Court, December 18, 2014. (Sketch from Jane Rosenberg)

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in U.S. District Court, December 18, 2014. (Sketch from Jane Rosenberg)

Asked by the judge if his lawyers had acted in his best interests, he said: “Very much.”

The court session lasted about half-an-hour and covered logistics for the trial.

Judge George O'Toole Jr. (Sketch by Jane Rosenberg)

Judge George O’Toole Jr. (Sketch by Jane Rosenberg)

It ended when the judge asked to meet privately with attorneys from both sides to discuss the mechanics of jury selection.  They will all meet in private again over the next two weeks.

TRIAL SET FOR JANUARY 5

Jury selection is scheduled to begin January 5.  Tsarnaev faces the possibility of the death penalty if convicted.

Defense attorney David Bruck told the judge Thursday that the defense plans to soon file a motion for a continuance, but he did not say how long of a delay the defense will seek.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev escorted to a van at FMC Devens, Dec. 18, 2014. (WBZ-TV)

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev escorted to a van at FMC Devens, Dec. 18, 2014. (WBZ-TV)

“I don’t think there’s anything that’s going to happen between now and January 5 that would put the start date off,” said WBZ-TV legal analyst and Nixon Peabody partner Gerry Leone.

“I do think that one very substantive conversation which has to happen between now and then is whether or not the defendant would be inclined to offer a plea of guilty for the death penalty being taken off the table.”

WOMAN ESCORTED OUT

As the hearing came to a close, a woman in the gallery screamed out at Tsarnaev in Russian and was escorted out of the courtroom.

Elena Teyer talks to reporters outside federal court, Dec. 18, 2014. (WBZ-TV)

Elena Teyer talks to reporters outside federal court, Dec. 18, 2014. (WBZ-TV)

She later identified herself as the mother-in-law of Ibragim Todashev, who was killed by an FBI agent in Florida during the investigation.

Elena Teyer says she told him: “We prayed for you. Be strong, my son. We know you are innocent.”

In English, she yelled to the law enforcement officers escorting her out of the room: “Stop killing innocent people. Stop killing innocent boys.”

Tsarnaev never flinched or acknowledged the shouts.

FIRST APPEARANCE IN 17 MONTHS

Before Thursday, he had not been seen in public since his arraignment in July 2013.

Prosecutors say Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, planted and detonated two pressure-cooker bombs near the marathon finish line on April 15, 2013.  Three people were killed and more than 260 were injured.

Tamerlan died following a shootout with police several days after the bombings. Dzhokhar was captured later that day, wounded and hiding in a boat parked in a backyard in Watertown.

The courtroom was packed with FBI agents, police who worked on the case and more than a dozen survivors and family members Thursday.

SURVIVOR CONFRONTATION

Survivor Marc Fucarile had a brief confrontation with pro-Tsarnaev protestors on his way into court, stopping momentarily to show them his prosthetic leg.

“I just asked her if she wanted to come in and look at the evidence and then she could make her choices and decisions on how she feels,” Fucarile told reporters after the hearing.

Marathon bombing survivor Marc Fucarile lifts prosthetic leg, confronts protesters outside Tsaranev hearing. (WBZ-TV)

Marathon bombing survivor Marc Fucarile lifts prosthetic leg, confronts protesters outside Tsaranev hearing. (WBZ-TV)

“There’s going to be an outpouring of emotion that’s going to be revisited now.  We’re all going to relive what happened,” said Leone.

“Some of the attempt of recovery is being able to come face-to-face with that person who’s accused of doing those heinous and horrible things to you and or your loved ones.”

WBZ-TV’s Beth Germano reports

“I want to be here not to see (Tsarnaev) so much as for him to see me,” survivor Karen Brassard told WBZ-TV, “to know that we’ve come through this and we’re stronger and we’re here.”

WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Carl Stevens reports

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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