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Common theme in search for Tsarnaev jury

Death penalty still at forefront

A courtroom sketch showed Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.Jane Flavell Collins/Reuters

A data management consultant, a state energy regulator, a computer technician, and a banker were among the prospective jurors who were called into federal court in Boston Friday to be vetted for jury duty in the trial of alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

But as US District Judge George A. O'Toole Jr., defense lawyers, and prosecutors conducted the second day of questioning of prospective jurors in perhaps the most anticipated trial in Boston's history, they continued to encounter a common theme: While some said they could keep an open mind, many said they could not vote in favor of a death sentence, even if a jury finds Tsarnaev guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.


"I think it's something I would struggle with," said Juror 43, a biologist in the pharmaceutical industry. "I'm not sure if I have the personal constitution to contribute to someone's death."

O'Toole withheld the jurors' identities to preserve their privacy.

Tsarnaev, 21, faces 30 charges, 17 of which carry the possibility of the death penalty in connection with the bombing at the Boston Marathon finish line on April 15, 2013. Three people were killed and more than 260 were injured. Tsarnaev is also charged in the shooting death of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer.

Galina Davidoff, director of jury consulting with Magna Legal Services, a litigation consulting firm, said it is no surprise that prospective jurors would say they oppose the death penalty — especially in Massachusetts, which does not have capital punishment — rather than admit that they have already made up their minds about the defendant's guilt.

"It's an honorable position to take; it's easy to say in court; it's not considered to be a bias," she said.

O'Toole has now questioned 34 prospective jurors over two days, though he had initially planned to question 40 people each day.


They were culled from an initial list of about 1,350 potential jurors who last week filled out lengthy questionnaires, the first stage of the jury selection process.

Some were dismissed based on answers in the questionnaire while others were brought in for questioning. Not all of the potential jurors interviewed Friday said they opposed the death penalty, though some who were questioned said they were too close to the case to serve on the jury.

Juror 40, the head of a local nonprofit agency, said she was near the Marathon finish line when the bombs exploded.

She also lives in Dorchester and once met Martin Richard, the 8-year-old boy from that neighborhood who was killed in the explosions.

"It was a tough couple of days," she said through tears. She was allowed to leave the courtroom.

The judge will continue to interview potential jurors until he has a pool of at least 60 that he has deemed suitable to serve.

O'Toole has also held private hearings to let lawyers and prosecutors argue over which potential jurors should be excused and who should remain in the pool.

The judge is scheduled to interview more potential jurors on Tuesday.

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.