Defense attorneys for accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev cited recent media coverage — including the story of the mystery Marathon finish line shoveler — as they continued to ask the federal judge overseeing Tsarnaev’s case to grant a change of venue.
The coverage of the man who was inspired to clean off the finish line during this week’s blizzard “aptly symbolizes the unprecedented level of public feeling that still surrounds the Boston Marathon bombing, and that underlies the difficulties that have beset the jury selection process so far,” the attorneys said in a document filed Friday in US District Court in Boston.
Tsarnaev, along with his late older brother, are accused of planting the twin bombs that exploded near the finish line April 15, 2013, killing three and wounding more than 260 others. He and his brother, who was killed a few days later during a confrontation with police, also are accused of killing an MIT police officer. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Tsarnaev.
Monday will mark the start of the fifth week of jury selection, which is taking longer than originally scheduled. US District Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. has interviewed 114 potential jurors during nine days to determine whether they are suitable to serve on the jury. The judge has not said how many of the 114 potential jurors have been deemed suitable, or how many have been excused.
Ultimately, a panel of 12 jurors and six alternates will be seated. Those questioned Friday include a woman who said her daughter’s ex-boyfriend attended school in Cambridge with Tsarnaev and one of his friends who was later arrested. Another, a man, admitted he posted a photo on Facebook that Tsarnaev’s lawyers said disparaged Muslims.
Defense attorneys have been unsuccessful in two past attempts to persuade O’Toole that he cannot impanel an impartial jury in Boston.
The defense argued that the individual questioning of jurors, a process known as voir dire, has revealed bias “flowing from jurors’ powerful emotional connections to the people, places, and events of the Boston Marathon bombing.”
Prosecutors filed a motion in court Wednesday opposing the change of venue request.
But the defense amended its third request for a change of venue after a photo of a mystery man clearing the Marathon finish line during the blizzard was shared on the Internet this week. It turned out to be bartender Christopher Laudani, 25, who said he wasn’t thinking of the terrorist attack, but of the Marathon, which he has run five times himself, including in 2013, when he was near mile 25 when the bombs went off.
“It’s more about the finish line itself, what it represents to me. The love of something that is way bigger than any of us,” he told the Globe.
Tsarnaev’s lawyers said all major Boston media outlets reported the story, and they noted that the Boston police had appealed to the public on Twitter to solve the mystery of the man’s identity and the Boston Athletic Association had issued a statement about the mystery.
The lawyers also said “compelling stories of bombing victims continue to receive play and resonate in the Boston media market.”
“Such stories, and the widespread reaction to them, underscore the impossible task of unmasking juror bias in the very community where ‘everyone owns the Marathon,’ ” the lawyers said, quoting a phrase from the BAA’s statement.