After Two Months Of Jury Selection, Panel Chosen In Boston Bombing Trial
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
It took two months, and now the jurors who will decide the fate of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev have been chosen. Opening statements are scheduled to begin tomorrow. Tsarnaev faces 30 federal charges, half of which carry the death penalty. NPR's Tovia Smith was in the court today and joins us now. And, Tovia, let's talk a bit more about the jurors - eight men, 10 women. What else can you tell us about them?
TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Well, the 12 jurors, plus six alternates, include a legal secretary, a student, a nurse, a painter. From a rough count, at least four of them told lawyers in their interviews that they believe Tsarnaev is guilty. But that they could put that aside and come to a verdict based only on the evidence at trial. Also all the jurors say they're open to the death penalty, as they would have to be to qualify for this jury. And all the jurors appear to be white. There is one man who said his mother fled Iran because of religious persecution. He was one of those who said he believes Tsarnaev's guilty, but can remain open-minded. And this issue of juror diversity has been raised by defense attorneys, who say minorities were underrepresented in the jury pool. And they have tried unsuccessfully to stop the proceedings because of it.
BLOCK: And the defense attorneys, Tovia, have also been arguing that the whole jury pool is biased - too personally affected by the attack to be fair. That number that you mentioned - at least four of the jurors believe Tsarnaev to be guilty - sounds like it's evidence of that. What was the defense attorneys' reaction to this jury pool today?
SMITH: They did not appear to be pleased at all. Just yesterday, they filed yet another request to move the trial - that's still pending - though they've already been turned down five times. Prosecutors, meantime, argue the process is working. They say some of the so-called personal connections that the defense complains about are actually as trivial as someone having a Boston Strong keychain. So I would say prosecutors seemed quite a bit more upbeat today than defense attorneys.
BLOCK: And by all accounts, prosecutors have a very strong case, a lot of evidence incriminating Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
SMITH: Yeah, some would say almost irrefutable evidence from the video and photographs of Tsarnaev with and then without his backpack at the scene of the blast to the bomb-making instructions and jihadist literature that he allegedly downloaded onto his computer and the boat note that was found where he was hiding justifying killing Americans. It's so compelling that even Tsarnaev's lawyers say that the real issue here is sentencing and whether he gets the death penalty or life in prison. And they're already positioning to argue that Tsarnaev's life should be spared because it was really his older brother who masterminded the attack, they say. And that Tsarnaev was just coerced into cooperating.
BLOCK: And, briefly, Tovia, what can you tell us about Tsarnaev's appearance in court today?
SMITH: He mostly looked down and away from jurors. But when the final jurors were chosen, he definitely looked up, perked up and he stretched to make eye contact with them, even smiling a little as they walked into the jury box.
BLOCK: OK. NPR's Tovia Smith in Boston. Tovia, thanks.
SMITH: Thank you.
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