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Accused Boston bomber's lawyers want trial moved to DC

© Photo: AFP archive

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2015-01-04

Lawyers for the accused Boston Marathon bomber asked a judge on Wednesday to move his upcoming trial to Washington DC, saying so many residents of Boston had been at the race that it would be impossible to select an impartial jury there.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 20, is the surviving member of a pair of ethnic Chechen brothers who federal prosecutors contend killed three people and injured more than 260 in the largest mass-casualty attack on US soil since the September 11 attacks in 2001.

His attorneys said in papers filed in US District Court in Boston that they had commissioned a survey of possible jurors in the Boston area, as well as in Springfield, Massachusetts, New York and Washington DC. Some 57.9 percent of respondents in Boston reported they viewed Tsarnaev as “definitely guilty,” compared with 51.7 percent in Springfield, 47.9 percent in New York and 37.4 percent in Washington.

More than half of Boston respondents said they had participated in the 2013 marathon in some way or knew someone who had.

Tens of thousands of people were crowded around the race’s finish line on April 15, 2013, when the twin homemade bombs exploded and millions were ordered to shelter in their homes four days later as police conducted a manhunt for Tsarnaev.

Defence lawyers said they found Washington to be the city with the least prejudiced jurors, while also able to handle the logistics of what will be a high-profile trial.

Change of venue ‘compelled by facts’

US laws generally require a person accused of a crime to stand trial in the district where it was committed. Defendants can seek to have proceedings moved to another location where potential jurors may have been less influenced by pre-trial publicity.

Defence attorneys cited the trial of Timothy McVeigh, who was convicted of the 1995 bombing of a federal office building in Oklahoma City, and was tried in Denver, as an example.

“If a change of venue was warranted in McVeigh, it is even more compelled by the facts presented here,” they wrote in a filing on Wednesday.

But last month another judge at the US District Court in Boston rejected a separate bid to move out of state the upcoming trials of three friends of Tsarnaev, who are accused of interfering with the investigation by taking a laptop and backpack from his dormitory room following the bombing.

That judge, Douglas Woodlock, suggested the trial could move to Springfield, Massachusetts, about 90 miles (145 km) west of Boston, in the event of difficulty in choosing a jury, though he said he regarded that as unlikely.

‘Prejudicial’ to use Tsarnaev’s immigrant status in trial

Earlier on Wednesday, a judge told prosecutors they may not use the fact that Tsarnaev is a naturalised US citizen as a factor in determining whether he should be executed if convicted.

US District Judge George O’Toole blocked a bid by prosecutors to cite the fact that Tsarnaev took an oath of loyalty to the United States when he became a citizen as an aggravating factor in deciding on the death penalty if he is convicted.

Federal prosecutors have argued, in part, that as a Russian-born immigrant, Tsarnaev deserves the death penalty because he betrayed his allegiance to the US, which gave his family asylum and citizenship more than a decade ago.

O’Toole said it was “highly inappropriate” for prosecutors to draw a distinction between “naturalised” and “natural-born” US citizens, noting that native-born citizens could not face the same claim because they do not take such an oath. “It’s unduly prejudicial and I will strike,” O’Toole said.

Tsarnaev’s 26-year-old brother, Tamerlan, died after a gun battle with police three days after the April 15, 2013 bombing.

Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty to the charges. His trial is scheduled to begin in November.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-06-19

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