Boston Marathon Bomber Appeals Death Sentence Alleging Juror Bias

During the days after bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon in 2013, killing and maiming people who had gathered to cheer on runners, a restaurant manager from Dorchester joined the chorus of heartbreak and outrage on Twitter.

“:-( RIP little man,” wrote the woman, who used the handle HerLadyship, of an 8-year-old boy from her neighborhood who had been killed. She sympathized with Twitter friends forced to “shelter in place” during the manhunt, but also said “it’s worse having to work knowing your family is locked down!”

When a 19-year-old named Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was arrested after the attack, HerLadyship retweeted a post from someone who praised “all of the law enforcement professionals who went through hell to bring in that piece of garbage.”

More than six years later, those casual posts — by the woman who became the forewoman of Mr. Tsarnaev’s jury — could become the basis for reversing his death sentence.

At an appeal hearing on Thursday, a panel of federal judges raised sharp questions about whether Judge George A. O’Toole, who presided over Mr. Tsarnaev’s trial in 2015, had adequately screened jurors for bias.

They zeroed in on a moment when Judge O’Toole learned that two sitting jurors had failed to disclose tweets and Facebook posts about Mr. Tsarnaev, and opted not to question them in detail about it or remove them from the jury.

“It’s just very puzzling,” said Judge William J. Kayatta Jr., in remarks to a government prosecutor. “You have a defendant who is clearly guilty of this heinous crime and you then stretch and don’t try to follow the rules that we’ve laid down for a trial.”

The line of questioning was echoed by Judge Ojetta Rogeriee Thompson, who asked why the judge did not screen jurors in detail about where they received information about Mr. Tsarnaev.

“Why isn’t this the kind of case that would require probing that kind of information,” she said, “such that not doing so, even if it’s not an abuse of law, is simply an abuse of discretion because the circumstances simply require it?”

Their questions offered a grain of hope to Mr. Tsarnaev’s defense team, which has argued that it was impossible to select an impartial jury in Boston, a city that had been steeped in powerful emotions over the bombings and deluged with pretrial publicity.

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SOURCE: The New York Times, Ellen Barry and Kate Taylor