Lawyers for Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev had asked the judge to delay jury selection due to the violence in France, which has dominated the news over the last week and drawn comparisons to what unfolded in Boston two years ago. The shooting massacre at the office of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper in Paris, was followed by a massive manhunt for two brothers who authorities said had become radicalized; days of bloodshed and panic culminated in a shootout with police.
News reports and commentators have repeatedly pointed to how this mirrored much of what happened when the Boston Marathon was bombed, an attack that killed three people and injured more than 260 others in April 2013. Within days, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, were the subjects of a manhunt that reverberated across a major metropolitan area; the brothers, who law enforcement officials said had become radicalized, engaged in a shootout with police before Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed and his younger brother eventually taken into custody.
Attorneys for Tsnarnaev argued that while the massive pool of jurors was instructed to avoid news about the Boston Marathon bombing trial, they were not told to avoid news from France, which meant they could have been exposed to the reports tying the two situations together.
District Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. rejected the request Wednesday, saying that the detailed questionnaires filled out by potential jurors confirmed his judgment that a fair and impartial jury could be found:
— Dave Mager (@davemagerWBZ) January 14, 2015
This is the latest time O’Toole has rejected requests from Tsarnaev’s attorneys arguing that the trial be postponed. He has done so at least twice and has also denied requests that the trial be moved to a different location, determining that a fair jury could be found.
O’Toole, a Massachusetts native who was appointed in 1995, is said to have a calm, collected temperament. “He has that unique way of detaching himself, to be absolutely objective, which I think is a great skill,” Jim McIntyre, who recruited O’Toole to Boston College, told the Boston Globe last month. While he has repeatedly turned down requests to delay or move the trial, he has also suggested that he is keeping an open mind and said he would revisit these issues based on what happens during jury selection.
Jury selection in the high-profile trial began last week. Tsarnaev faces 30 charges for the attack and for shooting and killing Sean Collier, an MIT campus police officer, in the days after the bombing. About 1,200 potential jurors are being considered for the trial, which is expected to begin on Jan. 26 and could last for up to four months.
The jury pool is so large because of the nature of this case. In addition to finding jurors in the region who can be deemed impartial, there needs to be 18 potential jurors — a dozen to sit on the jury and six alternates — who are willing to give Tsarnaev the death penalty. The Justice Department is seeking the death penalty in this case, which makes for an unusual situation in Massachusetts, a state that abolished the death penalty in 1984. A Boston Globe poll conducted five months after the bombing showed that 57 percent of people in Massachusetts wanted Tsarnaev to serve a life sentence, compared to 33 percent who wanted the death penalty.