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Judge rejects 3rd defense bid to move marathon bombing trial

Judge George O’Toole Jr. said in his written ruling that “substantial progress” has been made toward a goal of finding 70 potential jurors

By Denise Lavoie
Associated Press

BOSTON — A federal judge on Friday rejected a third request from lawyers for the Boston Marathon bombing suspect to move his trial outside Massachusetts, saying jury selection has shown people are capable of being fair and impartial in the place most affected by the deadly attack.

Judge George O’Toole Jr. said in his written ruling that “substantial progress” has been made toward a goal of finding 70 potential jurors. Once that number is reached, prosecutors and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s defense team will then be allowed to eliminate 23 people each for strategic reasons.

A panel of 12 jurors and six alternatives will be chosen to decide whether Tsarnaev is guilty. If he’s found guilty, the same jury will decide whether he lives or dies.

Tsarnaev, 21, is accused in twin bombings near the marathon finish line on April 15, 2013. Three people were killed and more than 260 were injured in the attack. He has pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors say Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, carried out the bombings to retaliate against the U.S. for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a shootout with police days after the bombings. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found hiding in a boat in Watertown after the shootout.

Tsarnaev’s lawyers insist that he cannot get a fair trial in Massachusetts because many here were personally affected by the bombings and many already believe he’s guilty.

In their latest change-of-venue motion, filed Jan. 22, the defense argued that its analysis of more than 1,350 juror questionnaires showed that 68 percent of potential jurors said they believe Tsarnaev is guilty. They said 69 percent identified some personal connection or allegiance to the marathon or people injured in the bombings.

O’Toole, who has questioned 157 prospective jurors so far, said Tsarnaev’s third request to move his trial “has even less, not more, merit that the prior ones.

“Contrary to the defendant’s assertions, the voir dire process is successfully identifying potential jurors who are capable of serving as fair and impartial jurors in this case,” O’Toole wrote in his order.

This week, Tsarnaev’s lawyers asked a federal appeals court to order O’Toole to move the trial or to suspend jury selection until he ruled on their third change-of-venue motion. The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has not yet ruled on that petition.

Fifteen potential jurors were questioned Friday, including a man who said he was opposed to the death penalty.

“I don’t know how many thousands of rounds were shot at that boat. You couldn’t kill him then, I’m not going to kill him now,” he said.

O’Toole quickly ended the questioning.

To serve on the jury, potential jurors must express a willingness to meaningfully consider the two possible punishments in the case: life in prison or the death penalty.

Additional potential jurors are expected to be questioned Monday.