Prospective juror has sympathy for Tsarnaev, cites young age
BOSTON (AP) — Many of the more than 100 prospective jurors questioned in the federal death penalty trial of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev have said they can’t be impartial because they already believe he’s guilty or have a personal connection to the attack that would make it difficult to be objective.
On Friday, the judge, prosecutors and Tsarnaev’s lawyers heard a different perspective: a woman who said she has sympathy for Tsarnaev.
The woman, a 51-year-old former software engineer who now raises chickens, cited Tsarnaev’s youth — he was 19 at the time of the attack — and said she would not be able to sentence him to death.
“I could see Jeffrey Dahmer after a lifetime of killing people — he needs to be put to death — but this kid is so young, and I wonder if he just made a really big mistake,” she said. “I guess that’s my biggest qualm.”
The woman said her daughter’s ex-boyfriend went to high school with Tsarnaev.
“It’s like seeing my own kid in court,” she said of Tsarnaev.
Judge George O’Toole Jr. did not indicate whether the woman would be excused. He has not said how many of the people questioned so far have been dismissed and how many have made it to the final phase of jury selection, when prosecutors and Tsarnaev’s lawyers will be able to eliminate a certain number of jurors for strategic reasons.
Three people were killed and more than 260 were injured when two bombs exploded near the marathon finish line on April 15, 2013.
Tsarnaev, now 21, has pleaded not guilty. He is charged with 30 federal crimes, including 17 that carry the possibility of the death penalty.
Prosecutors say Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan — ethnic Chechens who had moved to the U.S. from Russia about a decade before the bombings — carried out the attack to retaliate against the U.S. for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a gun battle with police.
Another prospective juror questioned Friday became combative when one of Tsarnaev’s lawyers began to ask him follow-up questions, particularly when she asked him about an anti-Muslim cartoon he posted as his profile picture on his Facebook page. The cartoon showed Calvin — the boy from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip — wearing an American flag and urinating on a flag with Arabic writing.
The man, who works as a golf ball finisher for Titleist, said he posted the cartoon after someone sent it to him, “to get a laugh just like I got a laugh when I got it.”
When Tsarnaev attorney Miriam Conrad pressed him on whether he had an opinion about Muslims in general, he said, “I don’t really have an opinion unless you are doing something to hurt an American.”
“If a Muslim is taking the head off of a U.S. citizen, I will have an opinion,” he added.
A total of 114 prospective jurors have been questioned over nine days.
Tsarnaev’s lawyers filed another memo Friday supporting their third request to move the trial outside Massachusetts. The defense said a review of the questionnaires filled out by the 1,373 people called for jury duty and the individual questioning — known as voir dire — shows an “overwhelming belief in guilt, and widespread personal connections to the case.”
“In the face of such presumed prejudice, the law requires a change of venue without resort to attempts, by voir dire, to cobble together a jury.”
Prosecutors said in a court filing Wednesday that the defense has not shown that an impartial jury can’t be found in Massachusetts. They said many prospective jurors have said they could put aside their current opinions and listen to evidence in the case.
Jury selection was set to resume Monday.