Enough potential jurors have qualified for the trial of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev that final jury selection can begin Tuesday, with opening statements expected to follow the next day, a court official announced Wednesday.
Defense lawyers for Tsarnaev, however, have repeatedly requested that the proceeding be halted or moved out of the Boston area, contending that impartial jurors cannot be found so close to the site of the terrorist attack. An appellate court heard arguments on their request this month but has yet to rule.
If the appeals court does not intervene, and if final jury selection proceeds without a hitch, the prosecution and the defense will make opening statements on March 4.
Jury selection has gone slower than anticipated because many potential jurors have expressed anger toward Tsarnaev or said they were still grieving over the April 2013 bombing that killed three and injured more than 260. Severe winter weather also has caused delays.
The hunt for a jury started Jan. 5, when 1,373 prospective jurors began reporting to the downtown federal courthouse to fill out questionnaires. They then began meeting individually with the judge, defense lawyers and prosecutors for interviews.
In those sessions, a host of Boston-area residents said either that they were flatly opposed to the death penalty or that they already had decided Tsarnaev, 21, was guilty of the twin backpack bombings at the marathon's finish line.
Because the government is seeking the death penalty, the 12 jurors and six alternates must be open to sentencing him to death if he is convicted. Massachusetts has no state death penalty, but Tsarnaev is on trial in federal court.