A Long Day in the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Jury Pool
One by one, 20 residents of Eastern Massachusetts took a seat at a table across from Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and stated whether they would be able to sentence him to death if the jury finds him guilty.
“Justice is justice,” said Juror 11. “We live in a society, and if you break the rules, you aren’t allowed to live with the rest. … If you execute the right guy, I have no problem whatsoever.”
Tsarnaev, who had been watching Number 11 from the other end of the table, looked down at his notepad and scribbled something indiscernible to the journalists watching the proceedings on a video feed from the neighboring courtroom.
The video stream was shot over the heads of the potential jurors down a long rectangular table. Members of the jury pool were kept away from the camera to protect their anonymity. Tsarnaev and his attorneys sat across from the government’s lawyers. U.S. District Judge George O’Toole, Jr., sat beside the potential jurors and asked them questions.
The interviews with O’Toole marked the second phase of jury selection. In the first phase, more than 1,350 potential jurors were called to the John Joseph Moakley Federal Courthouse to fill out a lengthy questionnaire. The jurors called in the second phase have been weeded out from that larger group. O’Toole was scheduled to interview 40 potential jurors on the first day, but only got to only 20 people, 14 men and six women, which in part exemplifies the challenges in selecting an 18-person jury from the residents of Eastern Massachusetts.
Many people called had direct connections to the attack. One man’s wife treated the bombing victims. Another knew two MIT police officers who worked with Sean Collier, the man Tsarnaev is accused of killing.
“I can’t imagine any evidence that would change how I feel about what happened,” said Juror 4, a young man who works in advertising and took part in crowd sourcing efforts to identify the bombing suspects on Reddit before Tsarnaev was arrested.
There were several people who said they could make their decision based on the evidence presented in the trial alone. “I would have to hear all the facts until I make a decision on it,” said a man who owns an Italian deli. His wife is 5 1/2 months pregnant.
The trial is expected to last more than three months. Many jurors said the ordeal would be a personal and financial burden.
The majority of the conversations between the potential jurors and O’Toole centered on if they would be able to base their decision on evidence presented in the courtroom alone, and if they would be able to impose the death penalty. Because Tsarnaev is being tried capitally, 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.
A custodian at Chelsea District Court said he made a mistake on the form, and does believe the death penalty should be applied in any case. A makeup artist said she believed in enforcing the death penalty in all cases of capital punishment. Both were quickly dismissed.
A theology professor said he would only be able to apply the death penalty if the prison system failed. “There is no way that in modern America today that I am going to vote for the death penalty,” he said. Two women said they would only be able to apply the death penalty if their own children were hurt.
One woman said she had reserved judgment in regards to Tsarnaev’s guilt and that she, “would look at the evidence before deciding on the death penalty.”
David Bruck, one of Tsarnaev’s attorneys, said that O’Toole should ask more questions about whether potential jurors could find Tsarneav innocent, and still face their family and neighbors afterwards. “People would be furious, and there would be an uproar,” he said. “Can these jurors really presume this man’s innocence? Or is it really a case of, yeah, we know he’d guilty, but let’s get on to the evidence phase.”
Tsarnaev sat with his attorney Miram Conrad, and appeared to smile at something on her computer screen at the beginning of the proceedings.
Opening statements in the trial are set to begin January 26.