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Tsarnaev Trial Start Delayed, New Battle Over Venue

Dzhokhar Tsarnav's defense team filed a third motion to change venue yesterday. They provided a lot of statistics and quotes from the voir dire process so far to show Tsarnaev cannot get a fair trial in Boston.

In the filing Thursday, the lawyers said questionnaires filled out by 1,373 prospective jurors from Eastern Massachusetts show that 85 percent of them either believe Tsarnaev is guilty, have some self-identified connection to the case, or both.

“There is now no doubt that these emotions are deep, that they linger, and they are peculiar to and permeate the entire Eastern Division,” of Massachusetts, the lawyers argued, adding that 68 percent of the jury pool believes Tsarnaev is guilty “before hearing a single witness or examining a shred of evidence at trial.”

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Jury Selection in Tsarnaev Trial and Comparisons

Update: Tsarnaev's defense team has now requested a continuance due to the Paris shootings.

Boston Magazine has an interesting interview with Stephen Jones, lead trial counsel for Timothy McVeigh, "Tale of Two Trials" on similarities and differences in McVeigh's case and that of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

On jury selection, he raises the issue of the "stealth juror."

The federal courts, in my opinion, engage in a fiction. The fiction is — and some sincerely believe it, but I think nevertheless it’s a fiction — that once the juror takes an oath as a juror that their personality and character sort of changes and now they recognize this tremendous responsibility on them. I’ve not found that to be true.

What I’ve found is that the more notorious the case is, or the greater the publicity, jurors campaign to be on the jury so they can be a part of history, and that was certainly the case in Mr. McVeigh’s jury.

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Appeals Court Rejects Tsarnaev Request for Trial Delay

Update: It should be pointed out that the only thing happening Monday is that those summoned for jury duty will fill out a questionnaire. The court and lawyers will review them for a week or so. The jurors will be given a phone number to call which will tell them whether they have been excused or should appear on a certain date for further participation, or should call back at some other time. What most people think of as the trial (opening statements, testimony, etc) is not expected to begin before the end of January according to pleadings filed in the case.

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Jury selection will begin Monday as scheduled in the trial of Dzhokhar (Jahar) Tsarnaev. The First Circuit Court of Appeals today denied his Petition for a Writ of Mandamus which sought a change of venue, or an order compelling the trial judge to stay jury selection and hold an evidentiary hearing on his request for a change of venue. (Background here.) The four page decision is here. One judge dissented, and would have granted the application. [More....]

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Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Seeks Trial Delay

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's lawyers are asking for a trial delay, primarily due to last minute document dumps by the Government, as well as new expert witness disclosures. The Government opposes the delay. I've uploaded the defense motion here and the Government's motion here. (Addresses and phone numbers of defense counsel redacted.) From the Defense motion:

The size of the witness list:

On December 15, the government provided a witness list (comprised of 590 “law enforcement personnel” and 142 “civilian witnesses”) and an exhibit list (naming 1,238 exhibits and an additional 413 “files contained on digital exhibits”).

On the recent document dumps: [More...]

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Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Appears in Court

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, accused of committing the Boston Marathan bombing, was in court this morning. Reporters in the courtroom are live-tweeting. Almost all say he appeared much more alert, interested and engaged in the proceedings than at his prior appearance. He smiled when talking to his attorney Judy Clarke.

He wore slacks and a sweater, not an orange jumpsuit. He has a short beard and his hair is longer than at his last appearance.

As I wrote Monday, the Government asked for him to appear so that he could be quizzed about whether he is satisfied with his counsel, in case he is convicted and claims differently in an appeal. Today Dzhokhar (aka Jahar) assured the court he was satisfied with his attorneys, answering "Very much so." (One reporter tweeted he answered "Pretty much" and another said he responded "Yes Sir." Are they attending the same proceeding?)

One reporter said the Judge ruled the witness lists will be sealed until the jury is seated. Another said the judge said he will release the list on Dec. 28. [More...]

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Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: 17 Months Later

It has been 17 months since the public has seen Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. At the request of prosecutors, he will make his first court appearance since July, 2013 this week. I wrote a long post on his incredibly restrictive jail conditions back in April, 2013, describing the SAMS ("special administrative measures") imposed on him.

Yahoo News has a detailed update, which I highly recommend reading. [More...]

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4th Day of Jury Deliberations in Robel Phillipos Trial

The jury is in its fourth day of deliberations in the trial of Robel Phillipos, the friend of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev charged with two counts of making a false statement to federal officials in a terror investigation. Count One pertains to his statements to authorities on April 20, 2013, and Count 2 relates to statements made on April 25, 2013.

One of the reasons it may be taking so long: The jury must be unanimous as to any particular false statement he made. While there are only two counts, there are two allegedly false statements in the first count and seven in the second count. The jury has to discuss and arrive at a consensus on each. [More....]

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Robel Philippos: Verdict Watch

The jury has been deliberating for an hour in in the trial of Robel Philippos,the friend of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev who is charged with lying to the FBI. Closing arguments were held this morning.

Prosecutors say Phillipos, 21, lied to investigators about his whereabouts and what he saw on April 18, 2013, when he and two friends allegedly visited Tsarnaev’s dorm room and removed a backpack of evidence after the marathon bombings. After several interviews, Phillipos signed a written confession admitting he had lied and that he regretted doing so.

Phillipos’s defense team contends that he was a scared 19-year-old at the time who was “high out of his mind” during interviews with investigators and could not remember clearly. The confession, they argued, was coerced by investigators.

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Tsarnaev Friend's Trial Opens with Stoner Defense

Opening arguments began today in the trial of Robel Phillipos, the third friend of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to be charged with a crime related to the removal of items from Tsarnaev's dorm room after Tsarnaev was identified as a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings.

He is charged with making false statements to the FBI. His defense: He was "stoned out of his mind."

Friend Azamat Tazhayakov was found guilty of obstruction of justice at a trial in July; Dias Kadyrbayev pleaded guilty to obstruction in August. Neither have been sentenced yet. A fourth friend, Steven Silva, is awaiting trial on gun charges.

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Silva, Silva and Tsarnaev: A Confusing Story

Yesterday the feds arrested Stephen Silva of Cambridge, MA for heroin dealing and possession of a firearm with a partially obliterated serial number. Leaks from law enforcement claimed the gun is the one used to kill a Cambridge police officer days after the Boston Marathon bombings.

In June, the Judge in Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's case said he was very concerned about leaks but declined to issue a gag order. He should be more concerned now. As should the judge in Silva's case, since Silva isn't charged with anything related to the bombing, the Tsarnaev's or the officer's shooting.

He was charged with unlawful possession of a gun that had an altered or obliterated serial number. That police say it's the same gun that killed the officer says nothing about how the Tsarnaev's got it. Silva could have given it to any number of people who might have given it to the Tsarnaevs. Or, maybe someone paid a drug debt to Silva with the gun, and not being into guns, he sold it the next day, and his buyer sold or gave it to Tsarnaev.

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Obstruction Trial Begins for Tsarnaev's Friend Azamat Tazhayakov

In opening arguments today in the trial of Azamat Tazhayakov, one of the two friends of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev who is charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice Azamat's lawyer, Nicholas Woolridge, told the jury, "I hope you give this kid a shot."

Woolridge also told the jury that it was Dias Kadyrbayev,who will be tried at a later date, who took the backback from Jahar's dorm room back to their apartment, and that it was Dias' girlfriend, who will testify under a grant of immunity from prosecution, who told Dias to get rid of it. Woolridge said Dias only told Azamat about getting rid of the backpack after the fact. [More...]

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Tsarnaev Trial: Change of Venue Request

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has requested a change of venue to Washington, D.C. The judge has not yet ruled on the motion.

Since Mass. does not have a death penalty, many thought the defense would prefer to have the trial there, notwithstanding the pretrial publicity. But the expert surveys conducted by the defense showed Mass. residents presumed Tsarnaev guilty in greater numbers than residents of other places:

Attorneys said they had enlisted an expert to survey public opinion in four cities: Boston, Springfield, Mass., New York City and Washington. Respondents were asked a series of questions, including whether they believed Tsarnaev was "definitely guilty, probably not guilty or definitely not guilty" of the April 2013 bombings that left three dead and more than 260 wounded.

In Boston, 58% said they believed Tsarnaev was definitely guilty, as did 52% in Springfield and 48% in Manhattan. Only 37% in Washington said the same.

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Tsarnaev: Judge Slams Govt's Attempt to Use "Betrayal of US" as Aggravating Factor

The federal judge in the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev case has denied the Government's request to include "betrayal of the U.S." as an aggravating factor in the penalty phase of his trial, calling the attempt "highly inappropriate."

Federal prosecutors have argued, in part, that Tsarnaev, now 20, deserves the death penalty because he betrayed his allegiance to the country that granted him asylum and, later, citizenship.

The defense countered with:

"(I)n not one of the 492 cases before Mr. Tsarnaev's has the government cited the fact of a defendant's American citizenship, the way he became a citizen, any aspect of his immigration history, or his enjoyment of the freedoms of an American citizen as a reason to sentence him to death,"

The Judge ruled it was "highly inappropriate" for prosecutors to draw a distinction between a "naturalized" and "natural-born" U.S. citizen.[More...]

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Government Releases Tsarnaev's Scrawled Boat Note

The Government responded to several of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's motions today. In its response to his motion to suppress statements, it reprinted what Jahar has scrawled while hiding inside the boat:

I’m jealous of my brother who ha[s] [re]ceived the reward of jannutul Firdaus (inshallah) before me. I do not mourn because his soul is very much alive. God has a plan for each person. Mine was to hide in this boat and shed some light on our actions. I ask Allah to make me a shahied (iA) to allow me to return to him and be among all the righteous people in the highest levels of heaven. He who Allah guides no one can misguide. A[llah Ak]bar!

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Tsarnaev Defense Seeks Discovery on FBI Visits to Tamerlan

Defense lawyers for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev filed a 23 page motion for discovery Friday. You can read it here.

The motion, which seeks a lot of information about Tamerlan and the family's history, is an attempt to get the Government to turn over documents that could be used as mitigation evidence in the death penalty phase to show Dzhokhar fell under the spell of his over-powering brother. The defense says it is asking for:

...any evidence tending to show that Tamerlan (Tsarnaev) supplied the motivation, planning, and ideology behind the Boston Marathon attack, and that his young brother acted under his domination and control … .”

The motion doesn't claim the FBI tried to get Tamerlan to be an informant. It says it has information from its interviews of family members that the FBI met with Tamerlan before his trip to Russia on more than one occasion and that the family said the FBI tried to get Tamerlan to be an informant. It's trying to find out if the the Government is in possession of information that supports the family's statements. [More...]

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