Attorneys for the accused Boston Marathon bomber on Thursday asked an U.S. appellate panel to override a federal judge and order his trial moved out of the city, saying an impartial jury could not be seated so close to the site of the attack.
U.S. District Judge George O'Toole has three times rejected pleas by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's lawyers to move the trial out of the city where the April 15, 2013, attack killed three people and injured 264.
"This attack was viewed as an attack on the marathon itself ... and an attack on the city of Boston," attorney Judith Mizner, representing Tsarnaev, 21, told the three-judge panel.
Thousands of Boston-area residents were crowded around the race's finish line when twin bombs went off, killing three people and injuring 264, and hundreds of thousands were ordered to remain in their homes four days later while police conducted a massive manhunt for Tsarnaev.
That degree of personal connection to the incident will make it far more difficult to empanel an impartial jury in Boston, said Mizner, adding that would be less of a problem in other major cities.
"You aren't going to have people in Washington who say, 'my best friend was standing by the finish line," Mizner said. Assistant U.S. Attorney William Weinreb noted that jury selection, which began early last month, has already identified 61 people who could serve on the jury through the in-person
questioning process known as "voir dire."
"The voir dire process is working," Weinreb said. It has also turned up some potential candidates with strongly held presumptions on Tsarnaev's guilt, said Appellate Judge Juan Torruella.
He noted that several of the more than 1,350 potential jurors stated on their questionnaires that there was no sense in having a trial as they believed Tsarnaev was guilty. Others went even further. "With this case, I think a public execution would be appropriate, preferably by a bomb at the finish line of the
Boston Marathon," Torruella read from a questionnaire.
Tsarnaev is also accused of fatally shooting a police officer three days later as he and his older brother, Tamerlan, prepared to flee the city. Tamerlan, 26, died that night following a gun battle with police, and hundreds of thousands of Boston-area residents were ordered to shelter in their homes the following day as police searched for the surviving suspect.
Tsarnaev could face the death penalty if convicted.