Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev lost a court bid to move his trial to another city after a judge rejected his argument that potential jurors in the death-penalty case would be biased.
U.S. District Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. in Boston, who is overseeing the case, said Tsarnaev’s lawyers failed to convince him that an impartial jury couldn’t be selected. The judge granted Tsarnaev’s request to delay the trial that was set for Nov. 3, though only until Jan. 5.
The defense had argued that a survey conducted in four cities showed an “overwhelming presumption of guilt” on terrorism-related charges in Boston, where the April 2013 attack and subsequent manhunt struck fear into residents for days.
“The defendant relies almost exclusively on a telephonic poll and an analysis of newspaper articles to support his argument that venue must be transferred due to the impact of pretrial publicity,” O’Toole said in yesterday’s ruling. “Those results do not persuasively show that the media coverage has contained blatantly prejudicial information that prospective jurors could not reasonably be expected to cabin or ignore.”
Tsarnaev’s lawyers, who have worked on many of the highest-profile death-penalty cases in the U.S., are trying to avoid a capital sentence for their client, a former college student, who was charged with carrying out the attack that killed three people and injured 260 in April 2013.
The survey of people in Boston and Springfield, Massachusetts, as well as Manhattan and Washington, showed residents of Massachusetts were more likely to assume Tsarnaev was guilty and to believe he should be put to death, the lawyers argued.
Defense lawyers cited the prosecution of Timothy McVeigh, a former member of the U.S. military who blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people, and whose trial was moved to Denver to ensure less bias among jurors. McVeigh was still found guilty and sentenced to death.
Robel Phillipos, a friend of Tsarnaev’s charged with lying to federal agents probing the bombing, lost his bid on Sept. 23 to move his trial from Boston. U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock, who will oversee that trial set to begin next week, said he was “satisfied as to being able to get a fair and impartial jury in this case.”
Phillipos, a U.S. citizen, has denied wrongdoing. Two other friends of Tsarnaev’s, Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev, were also charged in the case, accused of removing a laptop, backpack and other evidence from Tsarnaev’s university dorm room in the days after the attack.
Tazhayakov was convicted of obstruction of justice in July following a jury trial in Boston. Kadyrbayev changed his plea to guilty last month. Both men, who were roommates, are citizens of Kazakhstan who were in the U.S. on student visas.
The three friends, who attended college with Tsarnaev at the University of Massachusetts (0555910D:US) in Dartmouth, aren’t accused of helping plan the attack or knowing about it in advance.
Tsarnaev, 21, an immigrant of Chechen descent, received asylum in the U.S. when he was 8 and took the oath of citizenship seven months before the attack. He was inspired by al-Qaeda and allegedly sought to justify the attacks as retribution for the killing of Muslim civilians by the U.S. government, including in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to prosecutors.
The case is U.S. v. Tsarnaev, 13-cr-10200, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).
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