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The search for jurors in the trial of accused Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is taking longer than expected. Defense attorneys say it's nearly impossible to find unbiased jurors around Boston, and they are asking yet again for the judge to move the trial somewhere else. NPR's Tovia Smith reports.
TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: From the beginning, defense attorneys have argued the entire jury pool has been poisoned by what they call a narrative of guilt from a, quote, "tidal wave of media."
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Even in jail, the government says, make no mistake, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is dangerous.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: ...That he knew how to build a bomb and would be happy to die a martyr.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev wrote why they targeted innocent people at the finish line.
SMITH: Now Tsarnaev's lawyers say widespread bias is proven by jurors' own comments on a court questionnaire. One, for example, wrote (reading) we all know he's guilty, so quit wasting everybody's time and string him up.
Another put down, (reading) they should have already killed him.
Defense attorneys said that 68 percent of the nearly 1,400 summoned have already decided Tsarnaev is guilty, and about as many say they have a personal connection to the case.
DAVID HOOSE: I don't think it's a close call. If this case doesn't get moved, what one would get moved?
SMITH: Defense attorney David Hoose, who's handled other death penalty cases, says this one has an exceptionally broad impact.
HOOSE: Virtually everyone is going to be no more than two degrees of separation from someone who was at the scene.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Unintelligible). What was that?
SMITH: Personal connections to the blast run the gamut from those who were there to those with friends or family who were victims medics or police involved in the violent shootout or dramatic capture of Tsarnaev.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: We have a person in the boat - a live party - live party in the boat confirmed.
SMITH: It's unclear where the judge will draw the line. One juror wrote her personal connection was, quote, "being a 29-year-old female, just like one of the victims." Equally challenging is who should be disqualified for opposing the death penalty. By law, jurors have to be open to it, and many can be easily ruled in or out. But what to do, for example, with the woman who told the judge she's categorically opposed to capital punishment, but when pressed, eventually conceded she might be for it maybe if her own child were the victim.
HOOSE: There are shades of gray. And, I mean, this does get confusing and muddy. Some jurors do go back and forth.
SMITH: While defense attorneys have unsuccessfully argued before that it would be impossible to find impartial jurors here, former federal judge Nancy Gertner says citing the opinions of actual jurors now bolsters their case.
NANCY GERTNER: This is now basically arguing that those predictions are borne out. I mean, it's essentially saying, see - we were right.
SMITH: The judge has insisted impartial jurors can be found here, but he's also left the door open to reconsidering. Gertner says there is good reason to doubt whether jurors can really set aside a personal connection to the bombing, even when they say they can.
GERTNER: The notion that you can take a bad fact - a prejudicial fact and then easily compartmentalize it so it doesn't bleed into the rest of your view of the case - that is extraordinarily difficult -extraordinarily difficult.
SMITH: If Tsarnaev is ultimately convicted, jury selection is likely to be grounds for appeal. When you screen out all jurors who oppose the death penalty and all those with pre-existing opinions on guilt or with personal connections, defense attorneys say those few who survive the winnowing will not be representative of the community as the Constitution requires. Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.
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