Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is pictured in this undated FBI handout photo. Credit: Reuters
Lawyers for the accused Boston Marathon bomber asked a judge on Wednesday to move his upcoming trial to Washington, D.C., saying so many residents of Boston had been at the race that it would be all but impossible to select an impartial jury there.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 20, is the surviving member of a pair of ethnic Chechen brothers whom federal prosecutors contend killed three people and injured more than 260 in the largest mass-casualty attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001.
His attorneys said in papers filed in U.S. District Court in Boston that they had commissioned a survey of possible jurors in the Boston area, as well as in Springfield, Massachusetts, New York and Washington, D.C. Some 57.9 percent of respondents in Boston reported they viewed Tsarnaev as "definitely guilty," compared with 51.7 percent in Springfield, 47.9 percent in New York and 37.4 percent in Washington.
More than half of Boston respondents said they had participated in the 2013 marathon in some way or knew someone who had. Tens of thousands of people were crowded around the race's finish line on April 15, 2013, when the twin homemade bombs went off and millions were ordered to shelter in their homes four days later as police conducted a manhunt for Tsarnaev.
Defense lawyers said they found Washington to be the city with the least prejudiced jurors, while also able to handle the logistics of what will be a high-profile trial.
U.S. laws generally require a person accused of a crime to stand trial in the district where it was committed. Defendants can seek to have proceedings moved to another location where potential jurors may have been less influenced by pretrial publicity.
Defense attorneys cited the trial of Timothy McVeigh, who was convicted of the 1995 bombing of a federal office building in Oklahoma City, and was tried in Denver, as an example.
"If a change of venue was warranted in McVeigh, it is even more compelled by the facts presented here," they wrote in a filing on Wednesday.
Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
NO 'BETRAYAL' CLAIM
Earlier on Wednesday, a judge told prosecutors they may not use the fact that Tsarnaev is a naturalized U.S. citizen as a factor in determining whether he should be executed if convicted.
U.S. District Judge George O'Toole blocked a bid by prosecutors to cite the fact that Tsarnaev took an oath of loyalty to the United States when he became a citizen as an aggravating factor in deciding on the death penalty if he is convicted.
The judge noted that a native-born citizen could not face the same claim because they do not take such an oath.
"It's unduly prejudicial and I will strike," O'Toole said.
O'Toole also denied a request by lawyers for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 20, to allow them to meet jointly with their client and his sisters without having federal agents present.
Defense attorneys had argued that understanding accused Tsarnaev's relations with his family would be important to making a case that he does not deserve execution if convicted, saying the presence of a federal officers prevented normal conversations.
O'Toole instead approved a proposal by prosecutors to have a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent from outside Boston, who is not directly involved in the investigation to monitor the meetings at the prison west of Boston where Tsarnaev is being held.