Search Continues For Unbiased Jury In Tsarnaev Trial

How selecting a jury really works

The courts are in the process of choosing the jury for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Tsarnaev is an accused terrorist.  Authorities say he and his brother set off two pressure cooker bombs at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon.

The courts need to walk a fine line when selecting a jury, because this case may involve the death penalty.

Massachusetts abolished the death penalty more than 30 years ago and last carried out a death sentence in 1947, according to CNN.  Some claim that Boston has a brutal, eye-for-an-eye past and the jury may choose execution.

This case is not a state case, but rather a federal case and the death penalty is still allowed.

There’s ambivalence about capital punishment in Boston’s DNA, and that makes picking a jury to decide Tsarnaev’s fate all the more challenging.

So the state might not have the death penalty, but the feds do.  His crimes, if he is convicted, include the murder of an 8-year-old boy – raising the bar for heinousness and cruelty.

The people with the strongest opinions – those on the extreme ends of the juror questionnaire rating scale – are the least likely to make the jury.

A 2013 poll by the Boston Globe showed that just a third of Boston’s residents favor the death penalty for Tsarnaev; two-thirds would choose life in prison as his sentence.

It’s a story that has been underscored, one by one, by those called to serve on Tsarnaev’s jury. They sit at the end of a long wooden conference table, surrounded by lawyers and a jury consultant as they answer questions posed by U.S. District Court Judge George O’Toole. When he is finished, he passes the prospect off to the lawyers. CNN claims that with many potential jurors, their body language says “deer in the headlights.”

Many have difficulty with the question.

It has taken 19 days of juror interviews to reach this point: The court announced Friday that it expects to empanel a jury early next week. The trial itself, with opening statements and the first witnesses, is expected to begin the week of March 2.

Massachusetts as a state hasn’t executed anyone since 1947 and wiped the death penalty off its books in 1984. But its past is far more varied. It was one of the first colonies to carry out the death penalty, hanging murderer John Billington in Plymouth in 1630. In all, Massachusetts has executed 345 people. Until 1951, first-degree murder carried a mandatory death sentence, and some Tsarnaev jury prospects who still think that is the case.

Indeed, the executions in Massachusetts seem to reflect the worst fears of their times. Mary Dyer was one the so-called “Boston martyrs” hanged in 1660 under a law that banned Quakers from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Then came the pirates and witches: 19 women were hanged in 1692 alone in the infamous Salem witch trials. Two Italian-born anarchists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, were executed in the electric chair in 1927 amid a huge public outcry spurred by writers, academics and celebrities of the time; many people believed them innocent.