BOSTON (AP) — In a quest to find impartial jurors in the trial of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the middle school language arts teacher seemed to fit the bill.
Yes, she had heard a lot about the case. But no, she had not formed an opinion on whether Tsarnaev is guilty.
“I believe that you need to be educated and informed before you make judgments,” she said.
But then she mentioned her two children, both close in age to Martin Richard, the 8-year-old boy killed in the 2013 bombings near the finish line.
Listening to evidence involving the death of a child would be “very challenging,” she conceded. Soon afterward, Judge George O’Toole Jr. ended the questioning and told her she could leave.
The woman is indicative of the difficulty of finding jurors who do not already believe Tsarnaev is guilty and who have no personal connections to the marathon or the bombings.
Tsarnaev, 21, faces federal charges in the twin bombings that killed three people and left more than 260 injured. Many of the charges carry the possibility of the death penalty.
Prosecutors say Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, planted the bombs in retaliation for U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a shootout with police days after the bombings.
As O’Toole questioned 15 more prospective jurors Wednesday, they described a variety of conflicts that would make it difficult for them to sit on the jury.
One man, a retired software engineer, said he had formed an opinion that Tsarnaev is guilty based on the intense media coverage of the bombings. But he said he could put that aside and listen to the evidence at trial before making his final decision.
But then he said he believes the evidence is so overwhelming that “the possibility — the probability — of him being found innocent, it would approach zero.”
Another prospective juror works for a company that provides emergency management systems that were used by Boston police during the marathon bombing and later in the week by the city of Watertown during an intense manhunt for Tsarnaev.
Another man works as a correctional officer at the Plymouth County House of Correction and guarded a friend of the Tsarnaev brothers who was held there while facing charges of lying to authorities about his contact with the Tsarnaevs around the time of the bombings. The man also said he believes Tsarnaev is guilty.
O’Toole has now questioned 129 prospective jurors over 10 days. He has not said how many of those people have been excused.
Once a pool of 60 to 70 people makes it to the next round, prosecutors and Tsarnaev’s lawyers will get 23 peremptory challenges for each side to eliminate jurors for strategic reasons. Twelve jurors and six alternates will be chosen to hear the case.
Tsarnaev’s lawyers on Tuesday asked a federal appeals court to order O’Toole to move the trial outside Massachusetts or to suspend jury selection until the judge rules on their third change-of-venue request. Prosecutors are expected to reply to the request Thursday.