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Tsarnaev defense expert cites media coverage in call for venue change

Lawyers for accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on Thursday sought to bolster their argument that his trial should be moved to Washington, D.C., with an analysis of factors including media coverage that they say has been prejudicial against their client.

In a filing in federal court in Boston, the attorneys submitted a sworn declaration from Edward J. Bronson, a professor emeritus at California State University Chico, who the defense team described as “perhaps the most experienced and well-known [trial] venue expert in the United States.”

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Bronson analyzed media reports in The Boston Globe and other outlets for the defense team and found that “the Globe’s coverage was marked by an overload of inflammatory themes, words, phrases, and passages,” the lawyers wrote.

The professor added in his report that “terror,” “terrorist,” and related terms were used to characterize Tsarnaev more than 1,400 times in the Globe. The specific word “terrorist” was used more than 620 times, Bronson wrote, though “often the word was not used to characterize Mr. Tsarnaev, but as part of phrases like terrorist attack.”

It was not clear whether the references pertained to articles in the newspaper or online.

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“The inflammatory coverage of the Boston Bombing case, even viewed solely through the Globe’s content, was overwhelming and thus extremely prejudicial,” Bronson wrote.

In a footnote, Bronson conceded that many of the more than 2,420 Globe articles he cited were not about the bombings but only referred to them.

“Obviously a passing reference is not prejudicial, but does show the pervasive impact of the case,” Bronson wrote.

He also explained, in another footnote, that the volume of the study prevented him from checking the relation of each article from the Globe and other media outlets to the case.

“A few of the included articles are not relevant to the Marathon Bombing case,” he wrote. “To download and collect the articles, we used a list of search terms connected to the case. ... In the ordinary case I review each article to check that it pertains to the case, but here, with over 3,600 articles [from the Globe and other outlets] and extremely limited time, I determined to accept the small over count.”

Reached by phone Thursday night, he declined to discuss his findings in detail but did say that every Globe article under review “at least mentioned” the bombings.

He also wrote that in Boston and New York “the Globe and the [New York] Times are more down-the-middle than their competitors.”

US District Court Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. has yet to rule on the defense motion to move Tsarnaev’s trial from Boston to Washington.

Prosecutors have urged O’Toole to reject the request, arguing in court papers that they are “confident ... that screening questionnaires and voir dire will be sufficient” to ensure that a fair trial is held in Boston.

Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.
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