The trial of 21-year-old Dzokhar Tsarnaev, the man charged with setting off two bombs concealed in backpacks at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, began January 5 in a federal courthouse in Boston.
3,000 potential jurors were summoned to court on Monday to begin the jury selection process, an unusually large juror pool according to NBC News. 1,200 are expected to fill out questionnaires over the next three days, the start of an intense screening process to filter out any bias in the case.
The jury selection has begun despite multiple appeals by Tsarnaev’s lawyers to move the trial out of Boston. The defense argued that an impartial jury would be impossible to find because of the intense news coverage and amount of people affected by the tragedy, and that the city was “victimized” by the citywide lockdown during the pursuit of the bombing suspects.
Because Tsarnaev is facing the death penalty should he be convicted, the jury selection process is crucial and will be monitored closely. “You can have people who are against the death penalty but are willing to vote for it in specific cases,” said Robert Bloom, a professor at BC Law School. “They can’t be stringent in their opposition to the death penalty, but if they said they could vote for it in certain circumstances, [Judge George O’Toole] could pick them.”
While the death penalty is currently banned in the state of Massachusetts, it applies in this case where the defendant is facing federal charges. Tsarnaev is being charged with 30 criminal counts in the April 15, 2013 bombings, which killed three people and injured 260 others, as well as with the murder of MIT police officer Sean Collier.
Tsarnaev has pled “not guilty” to all charges against him.
Judge O’Toole said individual questioning of prospective jurors will begin January 15, with opening statements expected to start around January 26. He also said the trial will last three or four months.
Nancy Gertner, former federal judge and Harvard professor, says that she believes conducting a full trial is a “mistake,” and that federal prosecutors should rather allow Tsarnaev to plead guilty and receive a life in prison sentence.
If Tsarnaev is found guilty, according to Gertner, he will die in prison on death row due to years of legal appeals, as well as the current hold on executions because of uncertainty about lethal injections.
“This really is a ceremony that doesn’t make sense,” she said.
Mayor Marty Walsh says that most people in the city of Boston just want the trial to be over. “People just feel that they know what happened on that day,” he said. “And I think a lot of people are saying, ‘Let’s move beyond this thing so the families can have some peace.’”