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Jury Selection To Begin In Trial Of Boston Bombing Suspect


Boston is gearing up for the trial of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Jury selection begins tomorrow - 1,200 prospective jurors have been summoned. In recent days, courts rejected motions to delay the trial and to move it to another location.

Milton Valencia of the Boston Globe says the defense argued it's impossible to have an impartial jury so close to the site of the attack.

MILTON VALENCIA: The concern here is that the city itself was a victim, you know, not just three people and 260 who were injured. Really the region was a victim itself, and there's concerns that there's no way to pick an impartial jury here.

RATH: And we're reading that 1,200 jurors have been called. That sounds like a huge number. But what does this sort of compare to? What's your model for this in terms of the jury selection?

VALENCIA: In Boston, the judicial system here has had some experience in high profile trials. The trial most recently of James "Whitey" Bulger, the notorious gangster, and some other high-profile political corruption trials, the type of trials that really get a lot of media publicity. They've outlined a multistage process to try and get an impartial jury. That's the use of questionnaires to kind of do an initial screening. Then whenever potential jurors pass that initial screening, they'll move on to more in-person questions by both lawyers and defense attorneys.

RATH: These questionnaires - if you've seen some in the past for trials, how big are they? How in-depth are these questions?

VALENCIA: We haven't seen them because they're keeping them sealed. They don't want, you know, to tip off jurors to what these questions are likely to be. But we've seen some of these surveys at more than 50 pages. They're asking views on interaction with law enforcement, any connection to the bombing, any connection to victims. How much have you read about this case? Do you read the newspaper? Do you watch TV? Do you run the marathon? I mean, these are all intimate questions that are going to help lawyers, the judge, and prosecutors do that initial screening. They're going to have digital copies of them. And really, you know, look really to see who can potentially serve and more importantly who cannot.

RATH: What are the other kind of questions that they're asking? I know the questions are sealed, but what's your sense?

VALENCIA: Right, well, there's two points here to make because one, can you serve on a jury for four to six months? This really is an investment on the juror's time. The other thing about this is this isn't just a high-profile trial, this is a death-penalty trial. And the key legal term here is a death-qualified jury. And you need someone who can sit there and say, I can hand out the death penalty if it's warranted or I can give out a sentence of life in prison if it's not warranted. And my views on the death penalty, either way, would not influence my decision.

RATH: So from Monday, the selection process, how long do you expect it's going to take to whittle down that very large initial pool of jurors?

VALENCIA: Well, what we've seen from federal trials - keep in mind this is a federal trial, not a state trial - we've seen on average that these jury selection processes can take a month if not more. And that's really just even if there's a fair, impartial jury, I think there are so many steps. The bar is so high just to make sure you're doing it right, that I think they go through all these steps and these protocols and that's just the amount of time it takes in general. Once you complete that, I think we are going to be here a little bit longer 'cause I think there's just going to be so much more attention, so much caution paid to the fact that we are selecting jurors from Eastern Massachusetts and are we selecting jurors that can remain fair and impartial.

RATH: Milton Valencia is a reporter for the Boston Globe. Milton, thank you.

VALENCIA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.