Eighteen prospective jurors were quizzed Tuesday in the federal death penalty trial of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as jury selection entered its third week at US District Court in Boston.
Many potential jurors have expressed bias or an inability to commit to the demands of the trial, though some on Tuesday seemed eager to step up to the plate.
Tsarnaev, 21, is accused of detonating two homemade pressure cooker bombs at the Boston Marathon finish line, killing three and injuring 264. He is also charged in the shooting death of an MIT police officer. Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty to all charges. He faces death if convicted; a fate that would be decided by a jury.
US District Judge George O’Toole had planned to bring in 40 prospective jurors each day of voir dire, but only 20 were called in Tuesday. Two jurors were not present.
“[When summoned] I looked at it as my duty and even as a privilege should I be asked to be a part of this,” said juror number 69, a woman who works for Massachusetts General Hospital.
That juror said she knew nothing of a deadly terrorist shooting in Paris earlier this month, and denied remembering that President Barack Obama had visited Mass General in the wake of the bombings. She also said she could impose the death penalty if the evidence supported it.
Following her questioning, defense attorneys raised questions about her objectivity. Defense attorney David Bruck inferred she was one of several prospective jurors who seemed too “eager,” and called it a “red flag” that she denied knowing about the president’s visit.
“Some may be completely sincere some may be harboring secret biases that they are not completely disclosing,” Bruck said.
Another woman, a 2007 graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, where Tsarnaev attended school, said she was “confident” that she could remain impartial.
“I think you need to see all the evidence and all the proof, before you can make that decision. It’s a big decision to make,” she said.
Another man said he was a father of two young children – aged 6 and 10 – and bluntly stated that his paternal instincts may interfere with his ability to be impartial, considering one of the bombing victims was an 8-year-old boy.
“When what happened involved kids of that age it’s hard for me not to make strong associations with my own children,” said the man, an architect.
One woman said she did not believe in the death penalty.
“I am opposed to the death penalty because I think that the government shouldn’t impose the ultimate penalty,” said the homemaker. “I don’t believe in eye for an eye justice… When someone commits a heinous crime, I don’t believe you [should] do the same thing back.”
A few jurors were excused after indicating that serving on the jury would cause a financial hardship.
Throughout all of this, Tsarnaev sat between his lawyers, occasionally fidgeting with his clothing or playing with a pen.
Last week, O’Toole questioned 34 people on Thursday and Friday. Those jurors were filtered from a list of roughly 1,350 people who began filling out in-depth questionnaires earlier this month.
Opening statements are expected Monday.