Defense attorneys for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev say the convicted Boston Marathon bomber deserves a new trial, arguing in a court filing Monday that Tsarnaev had no chance of a fair proceeding without a change of venue in a case that generated intense publicity.
In a 39-page memorandum filed in US District Court in Boston, the defense team requested a retrial for Tsarnaev, who was convicted in April of helping to carry out the bombings, which killed three people and wounded more than 260 others. After he was convicted, jurors decided in a separate phase of the trial that he should be put to death, rather than spend life in prison.
Monday’s filing also disputed the constitutionality of the federal death penalty.
Prosecutors had not responded to the filing as of late Monday night.
The document argued that some of the “predicate offenses” that qualified Tsarnaev for the death penalty were overly vague and questioned whether those acts could properly be considered crimes of violence.
In their argument about publicity, defense attorneys said it would have been nearly impossible for jurors to avoid outside information about the Marathon bombing.
Before the trial, which began in January with a lengthy jury selection process, the defense repeatedly asked without success for the case to be moved to another district.
“A new trial in a different venue is required due to continuous and unrelenting publicity combined with pervasive connections between jurors and the events surrounding the Boston Marathon bombing that precluded impartial adjudication in both appearance and fact,” the document said.
Tsarnaev’s lawyers also wrote that jurors were exposed to outside commentary on the bombings via social media.
The lawyers asserted that even if jurors obeyed the trial judge’s instructions to avoid discussing the case with anyone, “the breadth and depth of inflammatory images, headlines, and comments that regularly passed through their social media feeds support the argument that the trial should not have proceeded in Boston.”
In addition, the filing referenced what the defense described as a “media circus” that ensued when some of Tsarnaev’s relatives were flown from Russia to Massachusetts to testify on his behalf.
Members of the media staked out the hotel where the relatives were taken.
“The constant coverage created a stressful and unsafe environment for the witnesses,” the filing said. “Reporters attempted to ‘infiltrate’ the hotel while on the air. . . . Members of the defense team accompanying the family witnesses personally experienced this media frenzy and observed its effect on the witnesses.”
Tsarnaev, 22, is currently housed at a high-security prison in Florence, Colo. , where inmates are held in lockdown for 23 hours a day in 7-by-12-foot concrete cells.
Milton J. Valencia of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Andy Rosen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @andyrosen. Travis Andersen can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.