Boston bombing suspect’s lawyers: We want trial moved away, to Washington

Story highlights

Defense lawyers say it's impossible to seat an impartial jury in Massachusetts

Prosecutors say Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother planted bombs at 2013 Boston Marathon

Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty

Three people died and more than 200 were wounded in the attack

CNN  — 

Lawyers for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Wednesday asked that the federal trial of the suspected Boston Marathon bomber be moved to Washington, D.C.

In a motion filed with U.S. District Court of Massachusetts, lawyers for Tsarnaev, 20, claimed that the defense team’s own venue survey revealed an “overwhelming presumption of guilt” in the state, prejudgment as to the potential penalty – the prosecution is seeking the death penalty – and an “extraordinary high number” of potential jurors who either attended or participated in the 2013 Boston Marathon or know someone who did.

Prosecutors said Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother planted bombs at the finish line of the 2013 race. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed during the manhunt that paralyzed Boston in the day the blasts. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev pleaded not guilty to killing four people and wounding more than 200 in the attacks.

Defense lawyers said the “publicity, tremendous local impact and galvanizing community reaction” forced a change of venue in case against Timothy McVeigh, who was executed for his role in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that took 168 lives.

“The community impact here is even greater than that present in McVeigh, given that the bombings occurred at the Boston Marathon on the day thousands of Bostonians and others from the region gathered to celebrate the runners, the Red Sox, and Patriots Day, the indelible fear that friends and family could have been killed or injured, the trauma experienced by those in the region for four more days while the police sought the perpetrators, and the hundreds of thousands of Boston area residents who sheltered in place during the climactic final day of the search,” the motion said. “If a change of venue was warranted in McVeigh, it is even more compelled by the facts presented here.”

Defense lawyers surveyed the Southern District of New York in Manhattan and the federal court district in Washington, both of which are “reasonably close, accessible to witnesses and interested persons, and able to logistically accommodate a trial of this magnitude,” the motion said. Washington would be the more favorable location, it added.

In Boston and Springfield, Massachusetts, the survey found that 57.9 % and 51.7 % of the respondents, respectively, said they believed the defendant was guilty, compared to 47.9 % and 37.4% for Manhattan and Washington. In addition, 37 % of the respondents in Boston and 35 % in Springfield believed Tsarnaev should receive the death penalty.

Defense lawyers asked the court for more time to study the issue before the November trial date.

Also on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge George O’Toole in Massachusetts heard arguments about whether Tsarnaev’s alleged “betrayal” of the United States was an aggravating factor for seeking the death penalty against him.

A defense motion accused prosecutors of trying to use the suspect’s foreign birth and immigration to imply that he was “more blameworthy, and more deserving of severe punishment” than a native-born person who commits the identical crime.

The government has said that part of Tsarnaev’s motive “was to provide aid and comfort to America’s enemies.” Prosecutors also said that after Tsarnaev received asylum from the United States, he “enjoyed the freedoms of a United States citizen; and then betrayed his allegiance to the United States” by killing and maiming its people, according to court filing.

O’Toole agreed with the defense, saying that drawing a distinction between naturalized and natural born citizens was “highly inappropriate.”