Juror selection continues in bombing trial

Juror selection continues in bombing trial

By Jose Castillo, news correspondent

Last week’s second round of jury selection for the trial of Boston Marathon Bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has many questioning the effectiveness of the process.

“Many potential jurors were either directly or indirectly affected by the events,” Daniel Medwed, a professor of law at Northeastern, said. “Not that jurors are biased, but that many might have a predetermined opinion based on their experience, what they’ve read, from what they saw, might make it difficult for the defense.”

As the second phase of the jury selection began on Thursday, Jan. 15, Judge George O’Toole, Jr. planned to meet with 40 potential jurors. He was selecting only from those who had passed the initial phase, which consisted of filling out a 100-question survey.

Many of the problems the defense had brought up before and during jury selection were echoed by the responses of those who could possibly sit on Tsarnaev’s trial without giving him the death sentence.

One potential juror indicated on his survey that his college roommates thought it was a “cool” opportunity to sentence Tsarnaev to death. When O’Toole asked if this could bring upon a biased decision, the juror responded with “no.” He explained that his Christian family background could possibly prevent him from making a fair judgment.

Another potential juror worked at John Hancock, a sponsor of the Boston Marathon, and knew a fellow employee who was at the finish line at the time of the bombings. His wife was a nurse who worked on some of the victims. He stated that he could not provide an unbiased decision.

Many other potential jurors had similar stories of connections. One juror lived near Richard Deslauriers, the FBI agent in charge of the federal investigation against Tsarnaev. Another juror became emotional after revealing that she had lived near Martin William Richard, the 8-year-old who died in the bombing.

Other interviewees with less serious ties also felt as though they were not fit to sit in on the trial, due to their religious beliefs, stance against the death sentence or predetermined notion that Tsarnaev was already guilty.

Last month, O’Toole shot down the defense’s request to move the trial elsewhere, stating that it would not be possible to find a fit jury to sit in on the case. However, there are benefits to allowing the trial to continue in Boston.

“I can see some of the merits in the judge’s decision, because the people of Massachusetts should be able to serve justice by serving as juror,” Medwed said. “A decision to move the case would cause logistical problems and elongate the trial.”

As the jury selection moves on, building a case for Tsarnaev has become increasingly difficult for the defense. In the wake of the attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the defense has called for halt in the trial, as the two cases shared many similarities. A halt would allow the defense to have more time to prepare Tsarnaev’s case.

“The two main similarities in both cases are that both have domestic terrorists, people living inside the country, and involve two brothers, so it is a useful request made by the defense,”  Medwed said. “A reason the defense is bringing up these issues is in order to preserve them for later appeals, and under our rules, if you don’t bring up issues at the time, you are forbidden from raising these issues in subsequent proceeding…and many death penalties are reversed on appeal.”

To the defense’s dismay, a plea bargain, which would be beneficial both to Tsarnaev and victims, does not seem likely.

“Taking the plea bargain, [Tsarnaev] would receive life without the possibility of parole, and we would be done with this trial, we wouldn’t reopen this case along with reopening wounds,” Medwed explained. “[As for now], we don’t really know, but it seems as though the prosecution will not offer a bargain, simply because it can be a case that deserves the death penalty, and also possibly so that the evidence can be present to the public through a full-blown trial.”

As for the speed of jury selection, O’Toole met with only 34 jurors between Thursday and Friday, 46 fewer than he expected to see. Juror cuts were made behind closed doors.

“It seems, based on how raw people were, how emotional people were, it’s going to take a while,” Medwed said, reflecting on the possibility of jury selection to last more than initially expected.

The trial date is set for Jan. 26. However, it may be delayed due to the current pace of jury selection.

Photo by Taylor Dobbs

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