The lawyers for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the alleged Boston Marathon bombers, and federal prosecutors are to meet in court on Wednesday for a status conference for the first time since U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Tsarnaev would be tried for the death penalty.
During this status conference, the officials involved will discuss the future of the trial. According to Quin Denvir, former federal criminal defense lawyer, these conferences often include talking about what motions will be filed against the accused and when the trial date may be.
“They have status conferences every so often just to kind of figure out what’s coming on ahead,” he said. “They’ll continue it probably in another status conference in 30 or 60 days.”
To ensure a fair trial, officials are debating whether the trial will actually be held in Boston, citing that the jury may be too biased if it is held here.
“There’s a good argument that they ought to change the venue because it’s the Boston Marathon,” Denvir said. “Wherever you go, people will be aware of the crime, but I think that the coverage [in Boston] is much heavier than other places. And I think it has much more of an emotional aspect, it’s in your town where it happened, where these people were hurt or killed.”
Denvir said the long process that will precede any sort of decision made by the court. He estimates that the trials will not actually begin for over a year.
“The government just decided recently that they would seek the death penalty,” he said. “At some point there will be a lot of motions filed, and quite a ways down I would think, there will be a jury trial where they will first try him on the question of whether he is innocent or guilty. Then if he’s found guilty, they’ll have a separate trial, a penalty phase, where the same jury will decide between life without the possibility of release or the death penalty.”
It takes 12 jurors to find him guilty, and 12 to impose the death penalty. If one votes against the death penalty, he will get life without parole, Denvir said.
Tsarnaev’s defense lawyers will be focusing on simply avoiding the death penalty.
“The defense [is] looking at what kind of evidence will they present about him, maybe his mental status, maybe his background, maybe the role of his brother, in arguing that if convicted they should not impose the death penalty,” Denvir said.
Several residents said they feel very strongly about this issue, with some even changing their usual views about the death penalty for this special case.
“I usually don’t believe in the death penalty — killing people for revenge,” said Kimberly James, 27, of Roslindale. “But in this case where children and innocent people were hurt, I can’t help but think he deserves it.”
Melanie Hsu, 27, of Fenway, said Tsarnaev deserves the death penalty, but he is receiving too much attention through this drawn-out process.
“He definitely deserves the death penalty,” she said. “But they should just give it to him already and close the case. He shouldn’t be receiving any more attention. For one, he doesn’t deserve it. But it could also give other people ideas.”
John Orlando, 34, of Boston, said in terms of the death penalty, it could go either way, but Tsarnaev is young and was under many influences, which should render him some sympathy.
“I’m not really for the death penalty,” he said. “He was probably under a lot of influence from his older brother, and had other pressures … Honestly, I wouldn’t really fight it whether he gets the death penalty or not, but I do think there are other things to consider.”