Second Phase of Jury Selection Underway in Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Trial

The second phase of jury selection in the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trial kicked off this morning at Boston’s John Joseph Moakley Federal Courthouse. U.S. District Judge George O’Toole Jr. spoke to 20 potential jurors as they prepare for the individual interviews with the judge, and this afternoon he’ll speak with 20 more.

O’Toole explained to the jurors that Tsarnaev is facing charges stemming from the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the murder of MIT police officer Sean Collier. Even though Massachusetts has banned the death penalty, Tsarnaev is being tried capitally because he’s accused with crimes “… involving violations with laws of the United States rather than a state crimes involving the laws of Massachusetts,” O’Toole said.

If Tsarnaev is found guilty of any of the 17 crimes that warrant the death penalty, O’Toole explained it will be up to the government to prove he “acted with sufficient intent to be subject to the death penalty,” and up the defense “to prove mitigating factors.”

Seated in the courtroom, Tsarnaev appeared to have taken some effort to clean up his appearance for the potential jurors. He got a haircut and wore a dark suit. Earlier this month, his hair appeared long and tangled.

These jurors returned to the courthouse after filing an extensive questionnaire during the first phase of selection. They were among more than 1,300 residents of Eastern Massachusetts who arrived at the courthouse earlier this month to fill out the survey. Many of those jurors have been disqualified.

In the first phase of jury selection, O’Toole stated that media exposure would not necessarily be means for disqualification, but the pool is now banned from reading, watching, or listening to stories about the case.

Because this is a capital case, jurors will be questioned about their ability to apply the death penalty. Jurors who are opposed to the death penalty, and jurors who believe it should be applied in all first-degree murder convictions, will be disqualified.

Earlier this week, Tsarnaev’s attorneys requested that jury selection be delayed in wake of the deadly attacks at Charlie Hedbo in Paris. O’Toole shut down the request, stating that the first phase of jury selection has “… confirmed, rather then undermined, my judgment that a fair and impartial jury can and will be chosen.”

Tsarnaev’s attorneys have made other attempts to delay and move the trial out of Boston, partially due to the high potential of bias of trying this case so close to the attacks. O’Toole has rejected all of their motions.

Journalists and the public have been barred from the courtroom in the second phase of the jury selection process to protect the potential jurors’ anonymity, but are able to watch and listen to part of the process via livestream where their faces are not be shown.