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With Tsarnaev case, civic duty may impose a heavy burden

By Nestor Ramos Globe Staff 

From the courthouse window, Gusina Tremblay saw the motorcade arrive for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s arraignment in July 2013.

Tremblay, one of the jurors who would convict Whitey Bulger a few months later, had one clear thought:

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“I would never be able to handle being on that jury.”

The civic duty required of the 18 people chosen to decide the fate of a man accused of orchestrating the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings will be a far heavier burden than most jurors are asked to bear. And what those selected will hear and see in court during the trial might linger in their lives far longer, said jurors who served on other weighty local cases in recent years.

The gruesome sights of that day two Aprils ago are still fresh in the minds of many. But for jurors, that day will replay again and again in a federal courtroom.

“Be prepared to breathe, eat, and sleep the trial,” is the advice Tremblay would give to the Tsarnaev jurors.

“Be prepared to be more and more stressed as time goes on.”

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Gerard T. Leone Jr., formerly Middlesex district attorney and first assistant US attorney for the district of Massachusetts, prosecuted the emotionally charged and internationally watched cases of attempted shoe-bomber Richard Reid and nanny Louise Woodward. Reid attempted to blow up an international flight using shoes packed with explosives. Woodward, a British au pair, was accused of killing 8-month-old Matthew Eappen in Newton.

“Over the course of the years, I’ve had jurors come up to me and say they served on a trial a decade ago, and they’ll tell [me] how it impacted them,” said Leone, now a partner with Nixon Peabody law firm. “It’ll impact them for years. There’s no way it wouldn’t.”

US District Judge George. A. O’Toole Jr. is seeking 12 jurors and six alternates for the trial. Hundreds of would-be jurors have filled out questionnaires in recent days in an effort to find those who can impartially weigh the evidence against a defendant facing 30 charges — 17 of which carry a possible death sentence — associated with one of the most notorious crimes in the city’s history.

Tremblay said the Bulger trial swallowed her life, but because she is not a Boston native, Bulger and his crimes were foreign to her. The years between the murders and the trial blunted some of the emotional effects.

“It was just a name,” Tremblay said. “It was a legend.”

The Marathon bombings were different.

“You remember where you were that day,” Tremblay said. “I don’t see how anybody can walk in and say that they could be impartial.”

But even cases that do not have the same notoriety can leave lasting impressions on the people who decide them.

“Serving on a jury is something that leaves an indelible mark on you,” said Michael Rosenthal, who served on the panel that in September convicted two men in the 2010 death of Richel Nova; a third defendant pleaded guilty to manslaughter. Nova, 58, was lured into an abandoned home while delivering pizza in Hyde Park in 2010 before being beaten and stabbed to death as he fought for his life.

“I was seeing pictures of a person who was murdered,” Rosenthal said. “I’ve dealt with people who were in dire straits before, but it’s haunting.”

Rosenthal, a doctor, is accustomed to the sight of blood. But he said the graphic images of that senseless crime stay with him. Jurors selected for the Tsarnaev trial should make sure to care for themselves during the trial.

“One of the hard things about being on a jury, from my perspective, is that when you’re on the jury, you can’t discuss the case with anyone including your family members,” Rosenthal said. That prohibition eliminates one of our most reliable defense mechanisms: sharing our burdens with those we love.

After particularly rough days in court, Rosenthal would come home and tell his partner that he needed some time alone.

“I would go sit in my office for a couple hours,” he recalled.

Days like that, Leone predicted, will be common during the Tsarnaev trial.

“You’re going to hear firsthand somebody who suffered and continues to suffer,” Leone said.

“These types of cases take a personal and emotional toll on jurors. They have a very personal, upfront view every day.”


Nestor Ramos can be reached at nestor.ramos@globe.com
Follow him on Twitter @NestorARamos.