Opening statements are expected to commence next Wednesday in the trial of the accused Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, according to a court official. Pending motions will be addressed in a hearing on Monday, and on Tuesday the defense and prosecution teams will whittle down the 70 remaining potential jurors to the 18 who will be seated for opening statements.
Over the past eight weeks, over 256 potential jurors have been called in for questioning at the federal courthouse in Boston. Judge George O’Toole and attorneys for both parties have asked the jurors about everything from their views on the death penalty to their use of social media.
If the selected jury convicts Tsarnaev, it will also have to decide if he should receive the death penalty. Tsarnaev is being tried for 30 crimes related to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings that killed three people and injured more than 250. He is also charged with the murder of MIT Police Officer Sean Collier.
Although jury selection started on Jan. 5, with opening statements slated for Jan. 26, the process was drawn out by snow days and other cancellations, including an unexpected one this Monday for undisclosed reasons. A total of eight days of jury selection have been cancelled so far, and the court will also take this Thursday and Friday off to deal with pretrial affairs.
Last Thursday, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit heard the defense team argue for the trial’s location to be changed, which government prosecutors opposed. The defense had filed repeated change-of-venue motions with the district court already, claiming that it would be impossible to seat an impartial jury in the city of Boston, which was heavily affected by the bombings. After O’Toole rejected all of the motions, the defense appealed to the higher court.
The appeals court initially ruled against the defense’s motion to move the trial to another city. However, the sole dissenting judge of the three, Juan R. Torruella, argued that the extent to which Boston was victimized by the bombings may justify moving the trial elsewhere. It was at Torruella’s request that the appeals court held the hearing last Thursday.
During the hearing, the defense continued to push for a change of venue, while the prosecution maintained that the time elapsed since the bombings is enough to now hold the trial without media bias.
The appeals court asked whether it was the right time for the defense to be making the appeal. Usually, an appeal like this would happen once the trial is completed, but Tsarnaev’s attorneys argued that the judicial system would be harmed by going forward with what they believe is a biased jury.
The appeals court has yet to release a ruling. If the appeals court were to accept the appeal, which is unlikely considering the previous 2-1 ruling against it by them in the past, then the trial would have to be moved to another state.
The Boston Bar Association (BBA), the oldest bar association in the United States, has also expressed dissatisfaction with the case, although for a different reason. On Wednesday, it asked the Department of Justice not seek the death penalty. According to Boston.com, BBA president Julia Huston cited financial strain, disproportionate impact on minority groups, and the inevitability of wrongful convictions as reasons to seek life imprisonment should Tsarnaev be found guilty.
Once opening statements begin, the trial is expected to continue for months. O’Toole offhandedly mentioned to a potential juror Wednesday that it could extend into June.