Boston bombing suspect’s life or death trial

2015-01-06 08:31

As jury selection began in the trial of the Boston Marathon bombing suspect, there is much speculation about the outcome of the process, which could end in the death penalty.

Many people already are making a guess about the sentence because they say a guilty verdict is almost a foregone conclusion.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the suspect in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, sat seemingly relaxed in the courtroom.

Wearing white trousers and a dark sweater, the 21-year-old man with dark curly hair, who now has a beard, didn't seem quite as photogenic and boyish as he did during his arrest and arraignment two years ago.

As jury selection got under way yesterday in a Boston courtroom, Tsarnaev seemed quiet and oddly absent – even though the outcome of the trial will be a question of life or death for him.

The beginning of jury selection and Tsarnaev’s appearance in court marked the first phase of the federal trial, and it was a strangely unspectacular start to the high-profile case.

The bomb near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15 2013 killed three people and injured more than 260 bystanders.

It was the deadliest terrorist attack on United States soil since the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks.

Over the next several days a 12-member jury and six alternates will be chosen from a pool of 1 200 candidates.

In the coming days, potential jurors will fill out questionnaires. Only people who do not in principle oppose the death penalty can be selected to serve on the jury.

“This process differs from many other processes,” said Judge George O’Toole, who presides over the trial.

To maintain their independence, potential jurors are not allowed to read about the trial in newspapers, watch television news reports about it or look at information online.

“Turn the page and change the channel,” the judge said. “This is an order of the court.”

However, some say that the minds of jurors are already made up about the outcome of the trial.

Judy Clark, a member of Tsarnaev’s defence team, said that an independent and fair trial was impossible in Boston, where the horrors of the massacre are rooted deeply in everyone.

Independent legal experts agree; other terrorist trials have been moved to other locations in the past.

However, O’Toole has rejected the defence team’s efforts to move the trial.

The trial also will be rare among federal proceedings because prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Massachusetts abolished capital punishment in the early 1980s, years after the last execution in the state in 1947.

Tsarnaev, however, faces federal charges in federal court, allowing prosecutors to seek the death penalty regardless of where the trial takes place.

The federal government has executed only two people since the execution of Timothy McVeigh in 2001.

In that high-profile federal terrorist case, McVeigh was convicted of carrying out a bomb attack in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people and injuring more than 600 others.

Making matters even worse for Tsarnaev, rumours are already circulating that the defence has already settled for a guilty verdict, with the only question remaining whether he can avoid being sentenced to death.

Defence attorneys are expected to portray Tsarnaev as an impressionable young man manipulated by his older brother, Tamerlan, who had turned into a radicalised Muslim.

Tamerlan, who is also accused of carrying out the attack, died during the manhunt that ensued after the bombing.

The defence will likely point out Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s integration into US society with his record of good high school attendance and popularity among his peers.

Whether it will be enough to avoid a death sentence will be the question most observers will be asking.

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