Boston Marathon bombing: Opening statements to begin in bombing trial
BOSTON — Almost 23 months after a pair of ghastly explosions at the Boston Marathon, opening statements will begin Wednesday in the trial of accused bomber Dzhokar Tsarnaev.
Their remarks will bring back vivid memories of the carnage caused by two pressure cooker bombs that exploded 12 seconds apart at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon.
Three people died in the blasts and more than 260 people were maimed and injured. A fourth person, an MIT police officer, was ambushed and killed in his patrol car three days after the bombings as Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan, allegedly ran from police.
Tamerlan, 26, was killed in a gun battle with police.
Prosecutors are expected to focus on the compelling stories of the survivors and family members of the victims. Their evidence includes graphic videos and full-body autopsy photos of the victims.
The defense is expected to argue that Tsarnaev was under the sway of his dominant older brother, a former Golden Gloves boxer who married an American and embraced radical Islam.
Jury cuts across class, but not race
It took nearly two months of juror interviews — 256 people over 22 court days — to select the jury.
The group includes 18 people from across the socioeconomic spectrum, but the group is almost exclusively white.
Race has been an issue raised by Tsarnaev’s defense during four unsuccessful attempts to move the death penalty trial from Boston. His attorneys argued that the way the court issues jury summons led to picking a panel that’s older and whiter than the community at large. But prosecutors argued that the jury had been picked properly.
“The prosecution got exactly what they wanted,” said CNN legal analyst Mark Geragos, who is a criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles.
Middle-aged white jurors tend to be more likely to support death penalty verdicts, he said.
“It’s a target demographic for a death penalty jury.”
Just one juror seemed to combine youth and ethnic diversity. A college student who is taking a break from his studies, he said his mother was born in Iran and converted from Islam to the Baha’i faith.
Will boat be brought to court?
The “Slip Away,” a boat in which Tsarnaev sought cover after the police gunbattle, also is expected to be a key piece of evidence. The prosecution is seeking to remove a panel on which Tsarnaev allegedly scrawled incriminating messages so that jurors can see it with their own eyes.
Assistant U.S. Attorney William Weinreb says the boat is too large to bring into the courthouse.
“This is a very large boat,” he said Monday during a pretrial hearing. “We don’t want the jurors getting into the boat. The boat is filled with dried blood and broken glass.
The defense, however, wants the jury to see the entire boat, complete with bullet holes. Defense attorney David Bruck argued that cutting out a panel would take the written words out of context and wouldn’t fairly reflect Tsarnaev’s state of mind.
Court papers have already given the public a glimpse of several statements Tsarnaev allegedly wrote inside the boat:
“The U.S. Government is killing our innocent civilians,” he allegedly wrote. “I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished.”
“We Muslims are one body. You hurt one, you hurt us all.”
“Now I don’t like killing innocent people. It is forbidden in Islam but due to said (unintelligible) it is allowed.”
“Stop killing our innocent people and we will stop.”
Jurors say they’ll keep an open mind
Tsarnaev is charged with 30 counts, including conspiring with his brother to detonate weapons of mass destruction at a crowded public event. He and his brother allegedly set off the homemade pressure cooker bombs filled with nails and shrapnel.
Seventeen of the counts carry a possible death sentence. Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty.
The jurors said they believed he was guilty or were unsure. Nobody said he was innocent. All of them said they’d keep an open mind and base any decision on his guilt on the evidence they heard in court.
“That’s all you have is the ability to filter through and see what’s BS and what isn’t,” a house painter who’s on the jury said.
Massachusetts hasn’t had the death penalty on its books in three decades, and the state hasn’t executed anyone since 1947. But the death penalty is an option because the case is being prosecuted in federal court. Federal law allows for the death penalty as punishment for some crimes, including terrorism.
Some of the jurors were personally opposed to the death penalty, but said they would consider it.
“If you had asked me this question 20 years ago, I would have said ‘definitely not,'” said a woman who has a master’s degree in social work. Raising kids changed her view, made her “less naive,” she added. “Sometimes bad things happen out there and there needs to be some consequence.”
Another woman who manages a restaurant said she was able to step back from her personal views and consider her job on the jury.
“I don’t feel like I’m sending someone to death or life in prison,” she said. “Their actions got them there, I’m following the law.”
Who will decide?
The jury of 10 women and eight men includes a house painter, an air traffic controller, a fashion designer, a nurse, a legal assistant, a restaurant manager, a volunteer, three public employees and five people who are either retired or between jobs.
The youngest were in their 20s — a nurse who is taking a break to travel in an RV with her boyfriend and an auditor who said he was fired over “productivity” issues but had served before on a jury in a criminal case.
Here’s a more detailed look at the 18 jurors, identified by their original juror numbers. It hasn’t been decided yet which jurors will be chosen for the main panel and which will be alternates. Their comments came during jury selection questioning.
Juror 35 — A middle-aged white man, he works for the Massachusetts Department of Energy. He believes the war on terror has been “overblown.”
Juror 41 — She appears to be in her 40s and works as a senior executive assistant. She has prior jury experience in a civil case. “I’m not one way for the death penalty, or one way against,” she said.
Juror 83 — He’s taking a break from college. His mother was born in Iran and he speaks some Farsi. His mother converted from Islam to Baha’i. “In certain cases, a life in prison can be an eye-opening experience,” he said.
Juror 102 — A nurse, she appears to be in her late 20s or early 30s and eager to be on the jury. She had a trip planned for April, when her lease expires but is willing to delay the trip living in an RV during her jury service. “I can’t make a decision whether he is guilty or not until I hear evidence,” she said.
Juror 138 — He works for the water department for a city outside Boston. “Death can sometimes seem like an easy way out. It can go both ways, I guess,” he said.
Juror 229 — Her husband is a financial adviser and she volunteers at a hotline for victims of domestic violence. A former social worker, she says she quit because, “I didn’t want to pay somebody else to raise my kids.” If she were in the defendant’s position, or someone in her family was, she says, “I’d want that fair trial.”
Juror 286 — She works as a general manager at a restaurant. She’s aware of the events, saying, “I’ll tell ya, I watch the news. I’ve seen reports.” She has been a juror before, and the experience filled her with pride. She wore a Boston Strong T-shirt at Disneyland, and says people pointed to it and said, “Cool shirt.”
Juror 349 — She has a new job at a fashion design company, and thinks Tsarnaev is guilty, but will keep an open mind. “I think there was involvement. I think anybody would think that.” She remembers reading about defense attorney Judy Clarke. “I think I’m a pretty fair and equitable person, and intelligent. I think I’d think it through.”
Juror 395 — She’s an executive assistant at a law firm. She always assumed she was against the death penalty, “but once you think about it, things change.”
Juror 441 — He’s an auditor who has served on a criminal jury before. He appears to be in his 20s and is perhaps the youngest of the jurors.
Juror 480 — He’s a middle-aged telecommunciations engineer and was working on the phone system at Massachusetts General Hospital on the day of the bombings. He says he was aware of “a buzz in the air” and knew something was going on that day, but was far from the action.
Juror 487 — She has four kids: a college student, a high school senior and 8-year-old twins. She says Tsarnaev “obviously, seemed (to play) a role in it” but “I understand you are not guilty until proven guilty.”
Juror 552 — He’s one of the older jurors, with white hair. He’s retired and has kept busy as a school bus driver. “I just have a notion that a person is innocent until proven guilty,” he said. He thinks life in prison is “a worse situation than being put to death.”
Juror 567 — He’s an air traffic controller and works for a contractor for the U.S. Coast Guard on Cape Cod. He thinks Tsarnaev was “somewhat involved” and looks at the death penalty “with some trepidation.”
Juror 588 — She leads digital sales at a suburban Barnes & Noble bookstore. “You don’t know if someone is guilty or not until the case is over, that’s kind of a point of a trial,” she says. She is personally opposed to the death penalty but knows she has to follow the law, even if she doesn’t like it.
Juror 598 — A house painter, he says jury duty would be a hardship but he’s “willing to serve my country.” He’s open-minded. “I think I could be impartial because any preconceived notion doesn’t matter. What matters is there are two sides to any story.”
Juror 608 — She and husband are retired. She was an actuary. He was a public school music teacher. She worries about executing an innocent person and would tend to err on the side of a life sentence. “It’s the prosecutor’s job to put on a good enough case to convince me,” she says. She isn’t convinced the death penalty is the harshest punishment. “Just because society says the death penalty is the worst, I don’t necessarily look at it that way.”
Juror 638 — She works for the state, teaching life skills to the developmentally challenged. She is open to the death penalty if “enough evidence was presented that it was absolutely horrific. “