BOSTON, Mass. (WPRI/AP) — After three days, the first phase of juror vetting proceedings is finished at the Moakley Federal Courthouse in Boston. Court personnel have indicated that activity won’t resume until the second half of next week.
While batches of jurors were brought into the jury assembly hall each day to hear introductions and instructions from the judge, suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been sitting in the room with them. The last batch of two hundred or so had their welcome session Wednesday afternoon, rounding out the 1,200 to 1,500 total who were summonsed.
After a talk by the judge, each potential juror had to fill out a paper questionnaire by hand. The process now is for the judge and lawyers to read them and eliminate people; jurors have to call a telephone hotline to find out if they’ve been excused, or if they have to return for the next round of proceedings.
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Tsarnaev is accused of carrying out twin bombings that killed three people and wounded more than 260 near the marathon’s finish line in 2013. Prosecutors say Tsarnaev and his late brother also killed an MIT police officer as they tried to flee days after the bombings.
Suspect fidgety, but calm
Each day, while each potential juror in a batch of the pool will be hearing a spiel from the judge for the first time, for reporters and court personnel — and Tsarnaev — it’s like watching reruns. Wednesday, Tsarnaev could be seen bouncing his leg, tapping fingers, touching his eyes, scrutinizing his own hand — though his demeanor was consistently relaxed. His defense attorney, Judy Clarke, has tended to look over to watch his movements.
When he’s not hearing the judge’s speech again in court, Tsarnaev is being kept in solitary confinement at the prison known as the Federal Medical Center in Devens, Mass. The drive is about an hour each way — barring traffic jams.
Twelve jurors and six alternates have to be chosen. Judge George O’Toole, Jr. said Monday the process is expected to take at least three weeks, with opening statements penciled in for Jan. 26.
Lawyers’ shopping lists
Legal experts and jury consultants believe the defense team is expected to look for jurors who are intellectually curious and eager to learn about other cultures and religions — in order to save Tsarnaev from the death penalty. Prosecutors are likely to favor conservative, patriotic types who are particularly sensitive to the randomness of the terror attack.
An additional wrinkle on the radar for attorneys is that the case is being tried in federal court — where the death penalty is a possibility — but in a state that itself does not have the death penalty.
The court will not meet on Fridays, unless a federal holiday — such as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day coming up on Jan. 19 — falls on a Monday.
Reporting from Denise Lavoie of the Associated Press was also utilized in this article.