BOSTON (Reuters) – Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s lawyer on Thursday asked a federal appeals court to overturn his death sentence, saying it was handed down by a biased jury in a traumatized city with at least one member who discussed the case on social media.
FILE PHOTO: A pedestrian walks past death penalty protesters before the formal sentencing of convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev at the federal courthouse in Boston, Massachusetts June 24, 2015. REUTERS/Dominick Reuter/File Photo
Lawyer Daniel Habib argued before a three-judge panel in a Boston courthouse less than two miles (3.2 km) from the site of the bombing that the publicity and manhunt leading to Tsarnaev’s capture in April 2013 biased the pool of jurors who joined the unanimous vote for the death penalty.
He noted that Tsarnaev’s defenders had asked the court to move the trial out of the city to avoid intense emotions that prompted one juror to tell a friend on social media that sitting in the courtroom with the suspect during jury selection was “legit crazy.”
That person was picked for the jury, which they then revealed to a friend on social media who advised them “play the part, get on the jury and send Tsarnaev to prison where he will be taken care of.”
Habib said that the judge had been alerted about the messages and seated the juror anyway, which he called “constitutionally intolerable.”
The then-19-year-old Tsarnaev and his 26-year-old brother Tamerlan sparked five days of panic in Boston when they detonated a pair of homemade pressure cooker bombs at the marathon’s finish line, killing three people and injuring more than 200.
The pair eluded capture for days, punctuated by a gunbattle with police in Watertown, Massachusetts, in which Tamerlan was killed. Boston and most of its suburbs were locked down for a day as armed officers and troops conducted a house-to-house search for Dzhokhar.
The city erupted in celebration after his capture, and Habib said, “This community atmosphere filtered to the actual jury.”
Tsarnaev, now 26, was sentenced to death in 2015 after a jury found him guilty of killing three people in the April 15, 2013 bombing – Martin Richard, 8; Chinese exchange student Lingzi Lu, 26, and restaurant manager Krystle Campbell – and murdering Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier, 26, three days later as the brothers attempted to flee.
Tsarnaev was be present for oral arguments before a panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Federal prosecutors were due to make their arguments later in the day.
“Tsarnaev was tried in a community still suffering from his crimes,” his defense team argued in court papers. “Two of the jurors who voted to sentence him to death lied during (jury selection), including the foreperson, who falsely denied calling Tsarnaev a ‘piece of garbage’ on Twitter, and, as the government concedes, failed to disclose that she and her family had sheltered in place in their Dorchester home during the manhunt.”
U.S. Justice Department lawyers say Tsarnaev received a fair trial and the jury was picked from a population mostly opposed to the death penalty. During his trial, a poll by the Boston Globe showed that about two-thirds of Massachusetts residents favored a life sentence for Tsarnaev.
During the trial, the family of the youngest victim, Richard, also asked prosecutors to consider taking the death penalty off the table.
Reporting By Tim McLaughlin; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis