Judge permits 2-month delay in Boston Marathon trial, rejects request for change of venue

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FILE - This file photo released April 19, 2013, by the Federal Bureau of Investigation shows Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. A judge has granted a two-month trial delay for Tsarnaev, but denied a defense request to move his trial. Judge George O'Toole ruled Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014, that the trial will begin Jan. 5 instead of Nov. 3. Prosecutors say Tsarnaev and his now-deceased older brother placed two pressure cooker bombs that exploded near the marathon's finish line last year. Three people were killed and more than 260 were injured. Tsarnaev could face the death penalty if convicted. (AP Photo/Federal Bureau of Investigation, File)


BOSTON — A two-month delay has been granted for the trial of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, but a judge has denied a defense request to move it from Boston.

Judge George O'Toole ruled Wednesday night that the trial will begin Jan. 5 instead of Nov. 3, but he rejected a request that it be moved to Washington, D.C., saying there's no reason to assume in advance that a fair jury cannot be selected in Massachusetts.

Defense lawyers had asked for a trial delay until at least September 2015, saying they have not had time to prepare for a November trial, and had been given less time than was granted in many other federal death penalty cases. They'd also asked that the trial be moved to Washington, D.C., citing extensive media coverage of the bombing in Boston and evaluations of public sentiment by their experts.

"Although media coverage in this case has been extensive, at this stage the defendant has failed to show that it has so inflamed and pervasively prejudiced the pool that a fair and impartial jury cannot be empaneled in this District," O'Toole wrote.

Tsarnaev, 21, has pleaded not guilty to 30 federal charges. He could face the death penalty if convicted.

Prosecutors say he and his older brother placed two pressure cooker bombs that exploded near the marathon's finish line. Three people were killed and more than 260 were injured. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, died in a shootout with police several days later.

O'Toole wrote that a short delay is warranted because of the large amount of evidence the defense has received from prosecutors. But he said, "An additional delay of ten months as requested by the defendant does not appear necessary."

Prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed they would need to summon about 2,000 potential jurors, but they filed more than 100 pages of legal briefs arguing over moving the trial.

The judge agreed with prosecutors' arguments the defense's expert evaluations were flawed, and that eastern Massachusetts' diverse population of over 5 million is sufficient to pick a jury.

The defense has cited the trial of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, which was moved to Denver, saying the marathon bombing had an even broader emotional impact. O'Toole said a more pertinent example was the Supreme Court's upholding of the decision not to move the 2006 trial of Enron fraud defendant Jeffrey Skilling from Houston, a similar large venue where feelings and publicity about that case were strong.

Boston has recently held several high-profile federal trials, including that of Boston mobster James "Whitey" Bulger, O'Toole noted. In each case, he said, jurors returned mixed verdicts indicating they had carefully evaluated trial evidence.

"It is doubtful whether a jury could be selected anywhere in the country whose members were wholly unaware of the Marathon bombings. The Constitution does not oblige them to be," O'Toole said.

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