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What’s the best jury Dzhokhar Tsarnaev can hope for in Boston Marathon trial?
reuters-Can Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the accused Boston bomber, hope to receive a fair trial in Boston? His defense lawyers doubt it. They have sought on four occasions to move the trial out of the city, citing evidence the community was too affected by the bombing to produce an impartial jury. Last month, a photo of a man clearing snow from the Boston Marathon finish line — interpreted as a sacred act of tending the city’s symbolic strip — went viral. In their latest motion to move the trial out of Boston, Tsarnaev’s defense lawyers pointed to the photo as evidence that he will not be able to secure a fair jury in Boston. They report statistics to support this claim. After reviewing more than 1,350 questionnaires of prospective jurors, Tsarnaev’s lawyers claimed that 68 percent already believe Tsarnaev to be guilty and 69 percent have identified a personal connection to the case. Given these challenges, what is the best jury the defense can hope for? There are numerous factors they will be considering. The defense want jurors who will be willing and able to understand the background and psychological makeup of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and why he turned to violence. They want a jury be sensitive to the role of religious dogma, his relationship with his brother, and his upbringing by Chechen parents in Russia and Kyrgyzstan. The defense will also be looking for an introspective, empathetic jury that will struggle with their feelings about condemning Tsarnaev to the death penalty. Defense attorneys will look to identify these attitudes in juror’s responses to extensive questionnaires they have filled out and the individual interviews currently being conducted with the lawyers and Judge George O’Toole. All prospective jurors are being asked about their attitudes towards the death penalty and their willingness to accept psychological motivations for the crime. They will answer questions like “Under what circumstances do you think the death penalty should be imposed?” and “What do you think of mitigating circumstances such as a defendant’s mental state or upbringing as having an influence on their actions?” This will help the defense to identify truly open-minded jurors. There are examples of jurors refusing to vote for the death penalty after taking into consideration the psychological circumstances of defendants. In the trials of Casey Anthony, who was accused of murdering her own child, and Jodi Arias, who was convicted of brutally murdering her ex-boyfriend, jurors were swayed by the troubled and tragic nature of their lives. Despite both young women being publicly vilified and expected to receive the death penalty, Anthony was acquitted and Arias was spared capital punishment by four jurors who could not vote for her death. Ultimately, the defense only needs one man or one woman to say “no” to the death penalty. For this, the defense will be looking for an independent maverick, a dissident who is able to withstand the community’s — and the jury’s — pressure to conform and convict. The defense will be looking to this lone juror to argue with the group and insist that Tsarnaev should not die, no matter what he did. So-called “holdout” jurors have had a huge impact in notable past trials. In the first trial of record producer Phil Spector in Los Angeles, who was accused of murder, there were two such jurors. Similarly, the first corruption trial of ex-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich resulted in a hung jury after a 67 year-old grandmother refused to change her vote. When interviewed after the trial, she said, “Some people in (the jury room) only saw black and white. I think I saw, in the transcripts and in the testimony, shades of gray. To me, that means reasonable doubt.” The defense in Boston will be looking for jurors who are willing to doubt and see shades of gray in human behavior. Despite the extraordinary vetting process now taking place at the Moakley Federal Courthouse, it will not be possible for Boston area jurors to set aside their prior knowledge, experience, and feelings for the duration of the trial. The odds for a fair trial are, as Tsarnaev’s defense lawyers have repeatedly pointed out, stacked heavily against him, putting him in the unconstitutional position of proving his own innocence. Still, one can never predict the emotional responses of the jurors to evidence they hear in the courtroom and the presence of the man they will be judging. Details may emerge that could push them to look deep within themselves and question whether they are really willing to vote for death, thus sealing the fate of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. That hesitance may be the best the defense can hope for.