Marathon bombing trial stays in Boston - panel

2015-02-28 22:23
Dzohkhar Tsarnaev (AP)

Dzohkhar Tsarnaev (AP)

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Boston - Publicity hasn't jeopardized Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's right to an impartial jury, a federal appeals panel says, and opening statements can proceed next week as scheduled in the city where the deadly explosions occurred almost two years ago.

The 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals panel said in a 2-1 ruling on Friday that a US district judge correctly denied Tsarnaev's requests on three occasions to move the trial, especially given the "particularly unusual" timing with jury selection already underway.

"The process has been thorough and appropriately calibrated to expose bias, ignorance and prevarication," the majority said of Judge George O'Toole Jr almost daily sessions with potential jurors that began nearly two months ago.

Chief Judge Sandra Lynch and Judge Jeffrey Howard said the ongoing jury selection process did not suggest pervasive prejudice and that it was not clear that pretrial publicity required a change of venue. The defence did not demonstrate irreparable harm if the trial remained in Boston, they said.

"Any high-profile case will receive significant media attention," the majority said. "Knowledge, however, does not equate to disqualifying prejudice. Distinguishing between the two is at the heart of the jury selection process."

The judges also noted that other high-profile terrorism cases such as the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing and the prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui, the man who became known as the "20th hijacker" from the 9/11, attacks, occurred in the district where the crimes occurred.

In his dissent, Judge Juan Torruella agreed with Tsarnaev's lawyers that intense media coverage of the case and the large number of people personally affected by the deadly attack made it impossible for him to find a fair and impartial jury in Massachusetts.

"If a change of venue is not required in a case like this, I cannot imagine a case where it would be," Torruella wrote.

Three people were killed and more than 260 were injured when twin bombs exploded near the marathon finish line on 15 April 2013.

A defence attorney did not immediately respond to an email from The Associated Press seeking comment on the ruling. In arguments Feb. 19 before the appeals court, federal public defender Judith Mizner said the local jury pool cannot be counted on to be fair and impartial.

"This attack was viewed as an attack on the marathon itself... and an attack on the city of Boston," Mizner said.

Assistant US Attorney William Weinreb told the appeals court that prospective jurors who have strong opinions have "unhesitatingly admitted" them, allowing the judge to rule them out as jurors.

A spokesperson for the US attorney's office declined to comment on Friday on the ruling.

A jury of 12 jurors and six alternates is to be seated early next week followed by opening statements on Wednesday. If the jury reaches a guilty verdict, the same panel will decide whether Tsarnaev lives or dies. The only possible punishments are life in prison without parole or the death penalty.

Read more on:    us  |  boston marathon

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