Why the Boston Marathon bombing trial must stay in Boston

Despite three appeals to relocate the trial, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will be tried in Boston for the events of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. 

Jane Flavell Collins/AP/File
Despite three appeals to relocate the trial, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (left) will be tried in Boston for the events of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.

After requesting a halt on the trial and a new location, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s trial for the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings – which killed three people and injured more than 260 - will remain in Boston.

Mr. Tsarnaev's lawyers have attempted to change the location of the trial three times, reported the Associated Press. However, a U.S. district judge denied each request, and late Friday night the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the decision correct.

Why will the trial be held in Boston, the very city where the events under trial took place?

A federal appeals court filed its decision after a panel of three, which voted 2 to 1, decided that a change of venue would not change the amount of media coverage or potential jurors’ awareness of the high-profile case. The court says that it will be up to the jury selection process to eliminate potential bias.

"Knowledge, however, does not equate to disqualifying prejudice. Distinguishing between the two is at the heart of the jury selection process," the judges wrote in the opinion, reported NBC News.

Judith Mizner, a federal public defender, questioned the court’s ability to find an impartial jury. In arguments before the appeals court, she said the trial should be moved to maintain public confidence in the judicial system, and that it was unlikely a local jury would be impartial and fair.

"This attack was viewed as an attack on the marathon itself . . . and an attack on the city of Boston," Mizner said on Feb. 19.

US Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Juan Torruella agreed with Tsarnaev’s lawyers that it was difficult to find jurors free of bias. With so many personally affected by the events in April 2013, he said it was difficult to find an impartial jury.

“If a change of venue is not required in a case like this, I cannot imagine a case where it would be,” Torruella wrote in his dissent. “If residents of the Eastern Division of the District of Massachusetts did not already resent Tsarnaev and predetermine his guilt, the constant reporting on the Marathon bombing and its aftermath could only further convince the prospective jurors of his guilt.”

While it is likely that a portion of Massachusetts residents may have strong feelings regarding the case, assistant U.S. Attorney William Weinreb said this was taken into account during the jury selection process. He said potential jurors “unhesitatingly admitted” their strong feelings, which enabled the judge to rule them out as jurors in the trial.

Tsarnaev faces 30 charges related to the Boston Marathon bombing and subsequent stand-off in Watertown, some of which carry the death penalty. According to a survey reported by The Boston Globe, 68 percent of the potential jury pool believes Tsarnev is guilty “before hearing a single witness or examining a shred of evidence at trial.”

The charges against Tsarnaev include the bombing of a public place, carjacking, disruption of commerce, malicious destruction of public property, and possession and use of a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death. A jury of 12 with six alternates will be seated next week, with opening statements beginning on Wednesday.

With some of these charges facing serious sentences, including the death penalty and life in prison, the defense team may have a difficult task in court. The Associated Press reported:

“Legal observers agree that the defense attorneys will try to protect their client from the death penalty rather than prove his innocence. Among the issues at play will be how Tsarnaev may have been influenced by his older brother, which would involve cooperation from close friends and family.”

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