A three-judge panel of the 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday called for a new penalty-phase in the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 27, a Chechen-American who was convicted of planting pressure cooker bombs at the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013, along with his brother. The bombs killed three people and injured about 280.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, died in a gun fight with police a few days after the bombing.
The appeals court ruled that the judge in Tsarnaev’s case did not screen the jurors adequately for potential biases. “But make no mistake, Dzhokhar will spend his remaining days locked up in prison, with the only matter remaining being whether he will die by execution,” the appeals judges said,
Tsarnaev’s attorneys said in a brief to the federal court that the “first fundamental error” was US District Judge George O’Toole’s refusal to move the case out of Boston. Next they showed social media posts from two jurors proving they had already made up their minds about the defendant’s guilt well before the trial.
One juror retweeted a post calling Tsarnaev a “piece of garbage,” the defense said, adding that on the day of Tsarnaev’s sentencing, she changed her Facebook profile picture to the slogan “BOSTON STRONG,” which was used in the city after the tragic bombing.
The appeals court agreed with the defense, saying that in light of the “pervasive” media coverage of the “bone-chilling still shots and videos” of the bombing and the manhunt, the judge should have conducted a jury selection process that was “sufficient to identify prejudice.”
“By not having the jurors identify what it was they already thought they knew about the case, the judge made it too difficult for himself and the parties to determine both the nature of any taint (e.g., whether the juror knew something prejudicial not to be conceded at trial) and the possible remedies for the taint,” the Circuit Court of Appeals judges wrote.