Friday 15 November 2019

Boston trial jury selection begins

Media take positions outside the federal courthouse in Boston (AP)
Media take positions outside the federal courthouse in Boston (AP)
Police officers stand outside the federal courthouse in Boston (AP)
A woman holds a sign beside a security office outside the federal courthouse in Boston (AP)

Potential jurors stared intently at Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as jury selection in his federal death penalty trial began under tight security.

Tsarnaev, flanked by his lawyers, sat at a table at the front of the jury assembly room in Boston.

Wearing a dark jumper and khaki trousers, he picked at his beard, looked at the potential jurors and looked at the judge.

Over the next three days, about 1,200 people will be called to federal court to be considered as potential jurors. The first 200 were given initial instructions by Judge George O'Toole Jr. Twelve jurors and six alternates are to be selected.

The judge said the trial will begin on January 26 and will last three to four months.

Prosecutors say 21-year-old Dzhokhar and his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev - ethnic Chechens who had lived in the United States for about a decade - carried out the bombings as retaliation for US actions in Muslim countries. Tamerlan, 26, died after a firefight with police several days after the bombings.

The defence is expected to argue that Dzhokhar had a difficult childhood and was heavily influenced by his elder brother, who authorities believe became radicalised in the last few years of his life, including during a six-month trip to Dagestan and Chechnya in 2012.

The courthouse was under tight security, with dozens of police officers inside and outside the building. One bombing victim, Karen Brassard, was outside the jury room waiting to observe jury selection. There were no Tsarnaev supporters outside the courthouse as there have been during pre-trial hearings.

The jury will decide whether Tsarnaev planned and carried out the twin bombings that killed three people and injured more than 260 near the finish line of the race on April 15 2013.

If they find him guilty, they will also decide whether he should be put to death. Survivors and first responders are among those expected to give evidence.

The trial, which is likely to last several months, is perhaps the most scrutinised case of its kind in the US since the federal trial of Timothy McVeigh, who was convicted and executed for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

Tsarnaev's lawyers tried for months to get the trial moved, arguing the Boston jury pool was tainted because of the number of locals with connections to the race. They drew parallels to the McVeigh case, which was moved to Denver for similar reasons. But US District Judge George O'Toole Jr, who is presiding over the case, refused.

Jury selection is expected to be a lengthy process because of extensive media coverage and the thousands of runners, spectators and others in the area affected by the bombings. The process could also be slowed if potential jurors express objections to the death penalty.

PA Media

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