As the date for the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trial approaches, the court begins a search for a panel of jurors to determine the fate of one of the accused Boston Marathon bombers. Due to the highly publicized nature of the trial, finding an impartial group of jurors will be no easy task, especially here in Boston.
U.S. District Court Judge George A. O'Toole, Jr. has planned to call at least 1,000 people to begin the juror search, seeking to compile a jury panel of 12 people along with 6 alternates. The pool of potential jurors can include those U.S. citizens, over the age of 18, who can speak and read English, from the Eastern Massachusetts area. They will also have to be capable of handing out a death sentence.
While Massachusetts abolished the death penalty in 1984, this is a trial for federal charges before a U.S. District Court. Charges include using a weapon of mass destruction, which carries a possible death penalty. Since 1950, there have been 26 federal executions, with about 60 people currently on federal death row. Attorney General Eric Holder decided to seek the death penalty for Tsarnaev. According to a Boston Globe poll, 62 percent of respondents supported this decision, with 29 percent opposed. However, a later poll taken in September found a majority of Boston residents favored a life sentence over the death penalty for Tsarnaev.
Many people may be dismissed by the court as being unable to serve impartially. Those 70 years or older can refuse service, and active duty military, police officers and firefighters will also not be asked to serve. Others claiming an extreme hardship may be excused. But those who remain may face service a jury trial that could last months, compensated at $40 a day in one of the most notable criminal trials in recent history.
Attorneys for Tsarnaev requested relocation of the trial, but Judge O'Toole rejected that request, leaving the trial to take place in the federal courthouse in South Boston. The potential list of jurors consists of about 35,000 people who reside in the Eastern District of Massachusetts. Because the jurors will be drawn from around the area, it may be difficult to find people who were not heavily influenced by the tragic events surrounding the April 15, 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
Tsarnaev and his older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev allegedly set off bombs that killed three people and injured more than 250. They also allegedly killed an MIT police officer while attempting to flee. Tamerlan was later killed in a shootout with police.
The judge will use a detailed questionnaire to gather information on the background of potential jurors. Many questions will likely center on the issue of the death penalty, seeking to find jurors who can hand down the terminal sentence if warranted. After the pool of jurors is further reduced based on their answers to the questionnaire, the judge and attorneys will question potential jurors during a process called voir dire. Attorneys for the defense and the the government can then issue preemptive challenges to eliminate additional jurors, with the goal of having 12 final, agreed upon jurors and 6 alternates.