The trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, accused of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, is expected to last up to five months.
But while that might sound daunting, a bigger challenge will have to be overcome just to get proceedings underway: picking a panel jurors.
Some 1,200 prospective jurors have been invited to the court in Boston and Judge George O’Toole will have to whittle that number down to a dozen, plus six stand-bys.
Why is that such a challenge? Mainly because of the unique circumstances of the case and local laws in Boston, Massachusetts, where the trial is being held.
Firstly the death penalty is banned in Massachusetts, so finding jurors that are not opposed to it may prove difficult.
This is even though Tsarnaev, because he faces federal charges, could face the death penalty if found guilty.
“You can have people who are against the death penalty but are willing to vote for it in specific cases,” said Robert Bloom, a professor at Boston College Law School. “They can’t be stringent in their opposition to the death penalty, but if they said they could vote for it in certain circumstances, he [the judge] could pick them.”
The second problem is Tsarnaev getting a fair trial.
His legal team argues it is impossible in Boston, because the marathon bombing affected so many people, attracted intense news coverage and saw the city in lockdown for a day after the tragedy.
“This case presents unique difficulty in terms of seating a jury that will be able to analyse the case fairly,” said former federal prosecutor Thomas Peisch, an attorney with the Boston law firm Conn Kavanaugh, quoted by Reuters. “This incident is seared into the consciousness of people who live in Massachusetts.”
O’Toole’s will need to find jurors able determining Tsarnaev’s fate solely on the evidence they hear in court, Peisch said.
Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty to all 30 charges against him.
The bombing killed three people and wounded more than 260 others in the largest mass-casualty attack in the US since 9/11.
Dzhokhar’s brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was killed in a shoot-out with police.