Jury selection began on Monday in the Boston Marathon case, a process that could go on for weeks as prospective jurors not only weigh the guilt or innocence of 21-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, but what his sentence will be if he is found guilty: life in prison or death.
There is no doubt that the trial will be closely watched by people all over the country; it is likely to be the most followed terror trial since the Oklahoma City case where Timothy McVeigh was sentenced to death for bombing the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in 1995. Nearly 170 people were killed in the attack and over 600 were injured.
Tsarnaev is accused of planning and carrying out the bombing of the 2013 Boston Marathon with his brother (now dead) and faces 30 charges. The bombings killed 3 people and injured 260 near the finish line. Tsarnaev is also charged with killing an MIT police officer during an attempted getaway.
Legal analysts speculate that the defense will be more concerned about keeping Tsarnaev off death row than clearing him of the charges against him. Reports indicate that federal prosecutors refused to take the death penalty off the table in plea bargain talks with Tsarnaev’s defense attorneys.
According to AP, a pool of 1,200 prospective jurors will be summoned to the court — the pool will be divided into groups of roughly 200. The unprecedentedly large number was deemed necessary “because of the need to weed out those unduly influenced by heavy news coverage of the tragedy, along with the many runners, spectators and others affected by the bombings.”
Additionally, any prospective juror who is strictly opposed to the death penalty will not be allowed on the jury — they have to consider it if the trial reaches the sentencing stage. However, as liberal of a city as Boston is portrayed as being, this may not be the most difficult prerequisite to fill.
According to the results of a Rasmussen survey published on Monday, a clear majority (58%) of voters believe Tsarnaev should receive the death penalty if found guilty. This is down slightly from 61 percent after his arrest in 2013.
The number of Rasmussen respondents who believe Tsarnaev should receive the death penalty if found guilty lines up fairly well with the number of Americans who support using the death penalty, according to Gallup. The latest numbers show that 63 percent of Americans favor the death penalty — a clear majority that is not likely to change anytime soon.
However, a majority of voters are not going to decide Tsarnaev’s fate — 12 people in a carefully selected jury will. Testimony in the trial will begin on January 26 and will last 3 to 4 months.