A federal court in Boston announced Thursday that it is no longer “realistic” to begin the marathon bombing trial Monday, an acknowledgment of the difficulty in finding an impartial jury after a week of questioning prospective jurors.
Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. had scheduled opening statements and the start of trial testimony to begin Monday, and was optimistic that he could question 40 residents a day in order to find 12 jurors and six alternates to sit in judgment over alleged bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
But the questioning process, begun Jan. 15, quickly bogged down.
Many stated flatly they could never vote for the death penalty. Others said they were already convinced that Tsarnaev was guilty. Still others said that after nearly two years, they remain emotionally scarred from the April 15, 2013, bombings that killed three and injured more than 260 at the race finish line.
Indeed, the first prospective juror told the judge that his friends thought it would be “cool” for him to sit on the jury and sentence Tsarnaev to death. On the second day of questioning, another prospective juror teared up describing her recollections of the 8-year-old boy who was killed in the twin blasts, and how some of her employees had run in the annual marathon.
On Wednesday one person, when asked if he would be open to the prospect of the 21-year-old Tsarnaev being found not guilty, burst out laughing, according to local news reports.
Lawyers for Tsarnaev have long insisted that a fair jury cannot be found in the Boston community. On Thursday, they made a third request to the judge to move the trial, noting that 68% of the 1,373-member jury pool already believes he is guilty.
“I am set in my ways and this kid is GUILTY,” the defense lawyers said one resident wrote on the sealed jury questionnaires. “Quit wasting everybody’s time with a jury and string him up,” wrote another. “Make sure he gets what he deserves,” wrote a third.
The defense has suggested alternate sites in western Massachusetts, New York City and Washington, D.C.
Last week, they asked for a trial delay, citing the publicity surrounding the terrorist attacks in Paris.
Judge O’Toole has repeatedly denied their requests for a delay in the trial or moving it out of Boston.
In a brief announcement Thursday morning, court spokeswoman Ginny Hurley said the jury selection process was “progressing.”
“But in the interest of thoroughness,” she said, it “is taking longer than originally anticipated. As a result, the previously estimated date for the start of the presentation of the case, Jan. 26, is not realistic.”
She added, “It is not possible yet to especially target a new start date.”