BOSTON (AP) — Defense lawyers for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev said in a court filing Monday that he deserves a new trial in a different location where jurors will be impartial.
They argued that, because of widespread outrage in Boston after the deadly 2013 attack, jurors in the city couldn’t be objective before finding him guilty and recommending a death sentence. As evidence of “continuous and unrelenting publicity,” they provided a long list of public events held in honor of the victims, including a new city holiday and several races.
Widespread media coverage featured stories about survivors, including one “powerfully emotional” moment during the 2015 marathon when amputee Rebekah Gregory ran the last 3.5 miles on a prosthetic leg before falling to her knees at the finish line, crying, the filing said.
Banners posted around the city urged solidarity. Even on social media, the lawyers wrote, jurors were inundated with posts from relatives and friends.
“Put simply, prejudicial media coverage, events and environment saturated greater Boston, including the social networks of actual trial jurors, and made it an improper venue for the trial of this case,” the filing said.
The filing concludes that the atmosphere tainted Tsarnaev’s constitutional right to an impartial trial. It asks that his guilty verdict be overturned and that the court provide a new trial to determine his guilt and his penalty.
Federal prosecutors on Monday evening didn’t immediately return a phone message or an email seeking comment on the request for a new trial.
Tsarnaev was convicted of 30 federal charges in the double bombing at the marathon’s finish line. Three people died, and more than 260 were injured. A federal judge, following the jury’s recommendation, sentenced Tsarnaev to death.
During his trial, his lawyers admitted that he and his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, carried out the bombings but argued his brother was the mastermind and he should not receive the death penalty. His brother died after a shootout with police.
The defense tried unsuccessfully during the trial to have it moved elsewhere, warning that too many people had personal ties to the marathon or the attack and that anguish in Boston was too powerful to provide a fair trial.
The filing Monday reiterated that request and added new legal arguments, including that a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling throws many convictions into question.
That ruling centered on the legal definition of a “crime of violence,” a distinction that can carry heavier penalties. The court ruled that part of the federal definition was unconstitutionally vague and struck it down.
In the Tsarnaev case, jurors were told that 15 of his convictions were for crimes of violence, but the trial court didn’t explain which part of the definition they met, according to the filing. Therefore, Tsarnaev should be acquitted for all of those charges, his attorneys wrote.
Tsarnaev was charged with placing and discharging an explosive in public, for example, but his lawyers said “the ‘delivery’ and ‘placement’ of an explosive do not involve violent force.”