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Boston Bombing Trial To Start With Jury Selection

  • RFE/RL

Defense attorneys Miriam Conrad (left) and Judy Clarke flank Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in court in Boston in this July 10, 2013, court sketch.

Defense attorneys Miriam Conrad (left) and Judy Clarke flank Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in court in Boston in this July 10, 2013, court sketch.

The trial of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is set to begin on January 5 with jury selection.

On January 3, a court rejected a bid by Tsarnaev's lawyers to delay the trial or move it out of Boston, the U.S. city where the attack occurred in April 2013.

Tsarnaev, a naturalized U.S. citizen with roots in Russia's North Caucasus, has pleaded not guilty to charges of killing three people and injuring more than 260.

He could face the death penalty if convicted.

Prosecutors say Tsarnaev, now 21, and his older brother, Tamerlan, left backpacks stuffed with explosives near the finish line of the annual race.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a shootout with police several days after the bombing.

U.S. District Court Judge George O'Toole will have to select a 12-person jury and six alternates out of a pool of some 1,200 prospective jurors.

Tsarnaev's lawyers contended that it would be impossible to find an impartial jury because of intense news coverage and the fact that thousands of people attended the race or hid in their homes during a daylong lockdown in the Boston area after the attack.

But the court that rejected their request to postpone the trial or move it out of Boston said they had not offered a sufficient rationale.

Jurors are supposed to make their decisions based solely on the evidence they hear in court.

The judge will also have to find jurors who are not entirely opposed to the death penalty.

The death penalty is banned under Massachusetts state law but applies in Tsarnaev's case because he faces federal charges.

Tsarnaev's family emigrated to the United States about a decade before the attack and settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, just outside Boston.

Prosecutors say Tsarnaev wrote messages on the hull of the drydocked boat where he hid after the bombing that indicated the attack was politically motivated.

Court papers say one message read, "The U.S. government is killing our innocent civilians," and another read, "We Muslims are one body, you hurt one you hurt us all."

Tsarnaev's defense team includes Judy Clarke, whose clients have included the long-elusive "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski, Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph, and the man convicted in an Arizona shooting rampage that killed six people and wounded a U.S. legislator in 2011.

All three received life sentences instead of the death penalty.

The prosecution includes Assistant U.S. Attorney Aloke Chakravarty, who was the lead prosecutor in the case of Tarek Mehanna, a Massachusetts man convicted of conspiring to help Al-Qaeda.

Tsarnaev's trial is expected to last three to five months.

With reporting by Reuters and AP​