BOSTON — A U.S. judge on Monday began the process of selecting the jury that will hear the trial of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, telling the first of some 1,200 prospects to read no more news accounts about the deadly blasts.
Tsarnaev, a 21-year-old ethnic Chechen who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, could get the death penalty if convicted of killing three people and injuring more than 260 others by detonating a pair of homemade bombs placed amid a crowd of thousands of spectators at the race’s finish line on April 15, 2013. He has pleaded not guilty to all 30 charges against him.
U.S. District Judge George O’Toole acknowledged the panel of 12 jurors and six alternates will be aware of the incident, but reminded the group that their job during the three to four month trial would be to consider only the evidence presented in court.
“Mr. Tsarnaev is charged in connection with events that occurred near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013 that resulted in the deaths of three people,” as well as with the fatal shooting of a police officer three days later, O’Toole told the group of 200 prospects.
O’Toole signaled that he would allow about three weeks for selection of the jury that will determine both Tsarnaev’s guilt and whether, if convicted, he will be sentenced to death. He said opening statements would begin around Jan. 26.
The large size of the jury pool, which has already been through an initial round of screening through surveys sent out by mail, reflects the intense interest in the case.
A moderate police presence was visible outside the courthouse, located in a downtown neighborhood that is the site of extensive construction, on Monday. Cruisers patrolled area roadways and officers with dogs walked the perimeter of the courthouse building.
Tsarnaev sat quietly between his lawyers during Monday’s proceedings, occasionally touching his face and looking around. He did not speak.
His attorneys had sought to have the proceedings moved out of Boston. They argued it would be impossible to find an impartial local 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.
But O’Toole and a federal appeals court blocked the request.
Tsarnaev was arrested four days after the bombing. Prosecutors say he and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, his 26-year-old brother, later shot and killed a university police officer. The brother died after a wild gun battle with police.
The Tsarnaev brothers were Muslims 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 U.S. government is killing our innocent civilians” and “I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished,” according to court papers.
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.