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Jury selection begins for Boston Marathon bombing trial

© AFP | Two pictures of bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev released by Boston Police

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2015-01-05

The highly anticipated trial of Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev began with jury selection on Monday, 18 months after the worst attack on US soil since September 11, 2001.

Tsarnaev faces the death penalty for the April 15, 2013 bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon that killed three people and wounded 264.

The 21-year-old ethnic Chechen, who is a naturalised US citizen, has pleaded not guilty to all 30 charges against him, which include conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death and bombing a public place resulting in death.

Tsarnaev was arrested four days after the bombing. Prosecutors say he and his 26-year-old brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev later shot and killed a university police officer. The brother died after a gunfight with police.

Seeking an impartial jury

Some 1,200 prospective jurors have been summoned to US District Court in Boston. Judge George O’Toole will seek to select a panel of 12 jurors and six alternates to hear a trial that is expected to last three to five months.

Tsarnaev’s attorneys had sought to have the proceedings moved from Boston, arguing that it would be impossible to find an impartial jury because of intense news coverage and the fact that thousands of people attended the race or hid in their homes during a day-long lockdown in the greater Boston area after the bombing.

Experts said it will be virtually impossible to find jurors unaware of the basic details of the bombing, which has already been the subject of two trials of friends of Tsarnaev who were found guilty of interfering with the investigation into the attack.

“This case presents unique difficulty in terms of seating a jury that will be able to analyze the case fairly,” former federal prosecutor Thomas Peisch, an attorney with the Boston law firm Conn Kavanaugh, told Reuters. “This incident is seared into the consciousness of people who live in Massachusetts.”

Death penalty

Another challenge will be finding jurors not entirely opposed to the death penalty, which is banned under Massachusetts state law but applies in this case because Tsarnaev faces federal charges.

“You can have people who are against the death penalty but are willing to vote for it in specific cases,” said Boston College Law School professor Robert Bloom. “They can’t be stringent in their opposition to the death penalty, but if they said they could vote for it in certain circumstances, he could pick them.”

The Tsarnaev brothers were Muslim ethnic Chechens whose family emigrated to the United States about a decade before the attack, settling in Cambridge, Massachusetts, just outside Boston. According to prosecutors, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev wrote messages inside of the hull of the drydocked boat where he was discovered hiding four days after the attack indicating the attack was politically motivated.

The messages included “the US government is killing our innocent civilians” and “I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished,” according to court papers.

His lawyers are expected to argue Tsarnaev acted under the influence of his brother, a boxer also suspected of having a role in a 2011 triple murder in Waltham, Massachusetts.

Three people died in the bombing: restaurant manager Krystle Campbell, 29; graduate student Lingzi Lu, 23; and Martin Richard, 8. Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier, 27, was fatally shot three days later.


Date created : 2015-01-04

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