Boston Marathon bomber had fair trial despite news deluge, U.S. prosecutors argue in appeal

By Nate Raymond
File photo of Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in this handout photo presented as evidence by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Boston

By Nate Raymond

BOSTON (Reuters) - Prosecutors on Thursday urged a federal appeals court to reject Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's claim that trying his case in a city reeling from an attack that killed three people and wounded more than 260 others deprived him of a fair trial.

The U.S. Justice Department told the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston that Tsarnaev, 25, received a fair trial before he was sentenced to death even after a judge declined to move the case to another city.

Defense lawyers in December acknowledged their client carried out the April 15, 2013, attack along with his 26-year-old brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who died in a gunbattle with police days later.

But they argued that wall-to-wall media coverage of the bombings meant nearly the entire jury pool was exposed to news about the attacks, which included "heart-wrenching stories about the homicide victims, the wounded and their families."

The Justice Department acknowledged the bombing, which cost multiple victims their legs, was widely covered. But it said such publicity "does not necessarily render a community unable to convene an impartial jury."

"Otherwise, no venue would be acceptable, and no trial possible, in the most nationally significant cases," prosecutors wrote in court papers.

The department noted a survey conducted for Tsarnaev's own lawyers found 96.5% of respondents in Washington, D.C., his preferred venue for the trial, had heard of the bombings.

Prosecutors also urged the appeals court to reject his other arguments that the trial judge ignored evidence that two jurors had commented on the case on social media before being picked and prevented the defense from telling jurors about Tsarnaev's brother's ties to a 2011 triple murder.

That evidence, the defense said, would have supported their sentencing-related argument that Tsarnaev was a junior partner in a scheme run by his older brother, "an angry and violent man" who had embraced radical Islam.

A federal jury in 2015 found Tsarnaev guilty of placing a pair of homemade pressure-cooker bombs near the crowded finish line of the world-renowned race, as well as fatally shooting a policeman three days later.

The same jury later found Tsarnaev deserved execution for six of the 17 capital charges of which he was found guilty, which were related to the bomb he personally placed at the marathon’s finish line. Tsarnaev is being held in the federal "Supermax" facility in Florence, Colorado, while the legal process continues.

The bombing killed three people: Martin Richard, 8; Chinese exchange student Lingzi Lu, 26, and restaurant manager Krystle Campbell. The brothers shot dead Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier, 26.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond; editing by Scott Malone and Grant McCool)