Last night, for the first time, Boston heard from one of the twelve jurors who sentenced 21-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death. But rather than provide new information, the interview only highlights how frustratingly little the public knows about the inner workings of the trial, even three months after sentencing.
Reporter Jim Armstrong of CBS interviewed the juror, shown only as a darkened silhouette and identified only by his number, #83. Despite motions from the Boston Globe and WBUR, Judge George O’Toole Jr. has kept the names of the jurors sealed—as well as the voir dire questions jurors filled out before they were selected, and well over half of the thousands of documents on the Tsarnaev case. As it stands, the public has no way of knowing what these documents contain, or why they have been withheld.
Juror #83 told Armstrong he stands by the sentencing decision, that the bombing was “senseless,” and that he believed Tamerlan Tsarnaev did “have a hand in the end result of Dzhokhar’s behavior,” but that ultimately Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was responsible for his actions. None of this should come as a shock to anyone even casually following the case.
Juror #83 revealed nothing about the jurors’ deliberation process or how the jury interpreted their instructions (legal experts speculate the defense may appeal based on the verdict sheet, because it did not clearly explain the jury’s role). He also didn’t address whether he later learned that many of the victims’ families, including the parents of eight-year-old Martin Richard, opposed sentencing Tsarnaev to death—information which was kept from the jurors at trial. And if so, how did he react?
He did address his feelings when Armstrong asked why it’s taken so long for him speak out. “For me it’s about taking the time to process what I went through,” he said, adding, “It took a couple months to do that. Nothing about this trial was easy.”
The long trial wasn’t easy for anyone, especially for the jurors, who were made to witness some of the most graphic evidence.
But Juror #83 also spent at least some of that time since the sentencing working on a self-published ebook, Juror 83 – the Tsarnaev Trial: 34 Days That Changed Me, to be released in September (price: $9.95). According to the summary, the book will tell the story about a “young and carefree man” whose concerns went from girls and “the next party” to accepting “the heavy responsibility that his country had given him.”
Even as an author, Juror #83 remains anonymous. According to Armstrong, he and other jurors are afraid for their safety.
Withholding the names of jurors is only done in rare cases; it began as a preventative measure against witness tampering in mafia trials in the 1970s. But former federal judge and Harvard Law School professor Nancy Gertner says O’Toole’s move to keep the documents sealed is unprecedented. “The judge has to make findings in advance that there are threats.” So far O’Toole has made no such finding. “I don’t see any justification on the records,” says Gertner.
Meanwhile, Tsarnaev is being held under Special Administration Measures, or SAMs, which limits his ability to communicate outside of the prison. According to Tsarnaev’s attorney, Judy Clarke, SAMs prohibited the defense from releasing a letter Tsarnaev wrote in 2013, in which, she says, he expressed remorse for the bombing.
SAMs is usually used to limit an influential prisoner’s ability to communicate with potential collaborators. But in the case of Tsarnaev, SAMs strikes Gertner as strange as well: “According to the press he’s a lone wolf, and he’s not communicating with anyone,” she says. “The presumption in a democracy is that everything is public unless there is a specific reason that passes constitutional muster.”
Without knowing anything about what those documents contain, it’s impossible to know if O’Toole’s reasons for withholding the Tsarnaev court documents measure up to that standard.
Source URL: https://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/2015/08/14/tsarnaev-juror/
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