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Jan 13, 2015 5:39 PM

Paris attacks could prompt new bid to delay Tsarnaev trial

The Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) The terror attacks in Paris could provide new grounds for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's lawyers to argue that his trial should be delayed and moved outside Boston because it may be even more difficult to pick an impartial jury with a new terror attack fresh in the minds of prospective jurors, legal analysts said Tuesday.

Tsarnaev's lawyers have asked repeatedly to delay the trial and to move it outside Massachusetts, where almost everyone seems to know someone connected to the marathon or personally affected by the 2013 bombings. Federal Judge George O'Toole Jr. has rejected the defense requests, and Miriam Conrad, one of Tsarnaev's lawyers, declined to comment Tuesday on whether the defense would renew the request in light of the Paris attacks.

But Jeffrey Abramson, a professor of law and government at the University of Texas at Austin, said that if he were one of Tsarnev's lawyers, he would ask for a delay of three to six months "until the Paris comparison fades a bit."

"Whatever scabbing or healing had begun to take place, the Boston wound is freshly ripped open by the events in Paris," said Ambramson, who has written extensively about the jury system in the United States.

In the marathon case, authorities say Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, planned and carried out the attack as retaliation for U.S. wars in Muslim countries. Three people were killed and more than 260 were wounded when twin bombs exploded at the finish line April 15, 2013.

Tamerlan was killed in a shootout with police days after the bombings. Dzhokhar, 21, could face the death penalty if convicted.

In the Paris attacks, two gunmen, brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi, burst into the Paris offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people. A total of 17 people were shot dead in a three-day terrorist killing spree, including four hostages. The Kouachi brothers and a third gunman were killed by police.

While "Boston Strong" became the slogan used to show unity following the marathon attacks, "Je suis Charlie" ("I am Charlie") has become a popular slogan since the Paris attacks.

Abramson said it would be difficult for any jury pool not to see similarities between the two cases and be potentially influenced by them.

"It just cries out for comparison," he said.

Veteran Boston defense attorney Jeffrey Denner said Tsarnaev's defense could argue that the pall cast by the Paris attacks will make it difficult to find jurors who can be impartial in Tsarnaev's case.

"Emotions are really running high now. The terrorist problem, while it's always this 800-pound elephant sitting in the room, right now it's the 800-pound elephant sitting right on the defendant," Denner said. "It's hard to ever view terrorist threats in an impartial way, but it's almost impossible where the events are so fresh and poignant as last week."

Jury selection began last week in Boston, with more than 1,350 prospective jurors called in to federal court to fill out lengthy juror questionnaires. The judge will begin questioning individual jurors Thursday.

Jury consultant Beth Bochnak said if she were a member of Tsarnaev's defense team, she would renew the requests to delay and move the trial, citing the potential impact of the Paris attacks.

"These high-profile cases especially involving terrorism frequently make anti-death penalty people into pro-death penalty people, and I'm sure what's happened in Paris is just making it harder," said Bochnak, who was a jury consultant for the defense in the trial of New York mobster Vincent "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano and the trial of Kristen Gilbert, a Massachusetts nurse convicted of killing four patients at a Veterans Administration hospital. Both Basciano and Gilbert were spared the death penalty.

Denner said suspending a trial after jury selection has begun would be highly unusual.

"The fact that they've already called a big group of people in and the process has begun makes it more difficult to be undone, as a practical matter," he said.

"On the other hand, the central issue still remains: Can any defendant get a fair trial given the circumstances and context of the case? The context has changed when the whole terror situation has been exacerbated dramatically over the past week," he added.

Denner said he also thinks it's unlikely the judge would reconsider moving the trial because of the Paris attacks.

"Right now, I think it would be hard to get a fair trial anywhere," he said.


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