RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The trial of the accused Boston Marathon bomber is set to begin this week, nearly two years after the deadly attack. Twenty-one-year-old Dzokhar Tsarnaev is facing 30 federal charges. Over half of those charges could result in the death penalty. Jury selection is expected to be finished Tuesday and opening statements to begin Wednesday. For more, we're joined by NPR's Tovia Smith, who has been following the case from Boston. She joins us now. Good morning, Tovia.
TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Good morning.
MARTIN: So already in the march up to this trial, I understand there have been some surprises in all of this, right?
SMITH: Yeah. First of all, originally the judge said that he wanted to have a jury picked in three weeks. And it's taken more than twice that time, partly because of the massive snowstorms, but also because it's been hard to find jurors who are fair and impartial in a place that was so widely impacted. As defense lawyers say, Boston itself was a victim of this bombing. And by their count, 85 percent of potential jurors have either already decided Tsarnaev is guilty or have a personal, emotional connection to the attack or both.
MARTIN: Eighty-five percent so that, I would assume, poses a challenge. I mean, is the trial definitely staying in Boston? Any chance it still might be moved?
SMITH: Well, defense has tried five times to get the trial moved, so far, unsuccessfully. Every time they point to comments made by jurors and say, see, this one's biased, the response from prosecutors and the judge is basically, well, that just proves the process is working because we exposed that bias, and we were able to weed that juror out. So for now, the process continues. Tuesday, as you say, is the final cut. Each side gets to strike a certain number of jurors without having to say why just for strategic reasons until we end up with the final 12 plus six alternates.
MARTIN: So from all we've seen, Tovia, prosecutors have a pretty strong case against Tsarnaev. What do we know about the defense?
SMITH: Yes, it is a very, very strong case. Prosecutors say they have everything from videotape of Tsarnaev carrying a backpack to the site of the second explosion, putting it down it walking away without it. They say Tsarnaev bragged about the bombing to the guy whose car he stole when he was on the run. They say they have evidence of jihadist literature downloaded to Tsarnaev's computer. And there's the message, prosecutors say, he left in the boat where he was hiding that seemed to be an explanation for it all. So defense attorneys can try to challenge this. But experts I've talked to say it's tricky because what Tsarnaev's team really needs to do is maintain their credibility with jurors so that if he is convicted, they can make the case to those same jurors that his life should be spared. And all signs are they're going to argue that Tsarnaev was so young and was so coerced by his older brother, the real mastermind, that Dzokhar Tsarnaev doesn't deserve to be put to death.
MARTIN: Lastly, Tovia, do we expect to see any survivors of the bombing at the trial?
SMITH: Yes, many have been waiting for this. They feel they need to see it through. But others are staying away fearing that it will just be re-traumatizing. We've already seen the emotion. There was an outburst in court from a Tsarnaev supporter. There was a confrontation outside between supporters and a survivor, an amputee who - one day, he picked up his prosthetic leg, and he bent it in half and blurted out to the Tsarnaev defenders - this is proof right here.
MARTIN: NPR's Tovia Smith, who's been covering the upcoming trial of Dzokhar Tsarnaev in Boston. Thanks so much, Tovia.
SMITH: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.