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As jury selection resumed Tuesday in the highly anticipated terror trial of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the judge appeared to find what until now has been in scarce supply: prospective jurors who say they can be impartial.
Tsarnaev is charged with 30 federal counts in the April 15, 2013, bombings and in the killing days later of an MIT police officer. Three people died and more than 260 were injured when twin bombs exploded near the marathon finish line.
Tsarnaev, 21, could face the death penalty if convicted of any of 17 capital charges against him.
Last week, U.S. District Judge George O'Toole Jr. began individually questioning people who could become jurors.
Although he has not said publicly how many people have been excused from juror service so far, many of the 34 people questioned last week appeared to disqualify themselves when they gave a variety of answers including: they already believe Tsarnaev is guilty, they would not consider imposing the death penalty under any circumstances, they know someone who treated those injured in the bombings, or that serving on the predicted lengthy trial would be a severe financial hardship.
On Tuesday, at least four people questioned said they either had no preconceived opinions on Tsarnaev's guilt, or if they did, they could put them aside and listen to the evidence before reaching decisions on guilt or punishment, whether life in prison or the death penalty.
One woman, a teacher, said she attended the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth, the same school Tsarnaev attended, but years before him. She said she also once lived in Watertown, where residents, including her boyfriend and other friends, were told not to leave their homes several days after the bombings as authorities searched for Tsarnaev after a shootout with police. She also has two brothers who are Marines, one of whom fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Authorities have said that Tsarnaev indicated in a note he wrote inside a boat he was captured hiding in that the bombing was in retaliation for U.S. wars in Muslim countries.
The woman told the judge those circumstances would not affect her ability to be impartial.
"You're supposed to assume someone is innocent until they're proven guilty," she said in response to questions from O'Toole.
The woman said that after the bombings, she saw a television interview with one of her history professors. The professor, Brian Glyn Williams, who taught Chechen history at UMass-Dartmouth, is on the prosecution's witness list.
Williams told several media outlets after the bombings that he had tutored Tsarnaev, an ethnic Chechen, on Chechen history while he was still in high school. Williams told the New Bedford Standard-Times that Tsarnaev "wanted to learn more about Chechnya, who the fighters were, who the commanders were."
Another woman, who works in the billing office of the Massachusetts General Hospital physicians' organization, said she hasn't formed an opinion on Tsarnaev's guilt or innocence and would be able to consider both possible sentences if Tsarnaev is convicted.
"I do believe in the justice system and I believe it's up to the justice system to make that determination," she said.
When asked by defense lawyer David Bruck about her reaction when she received a jury summons and later realized she could be asked to serve on the jury, she said: "I looked at it as my duty and even as a privilege should I be asked to be a part of this."
Others said they already believe Tsarnaev is guilty and could not be impartial. One woman said she posted her disapproval on Facebook after a story on Tsarnaev was featured in Rolling Stone magazine.
"I thought it was very wrong," she said. "I just said it's wrong, and it's not the kind of person you want on the cover of Rolling Stone."
Another man said he does not believe he could consider life in prison as a punishment and feels strongly "that the death penalty is in order" for Tsarnaev.
Another potential juror, an architect and father of two children, said it would be difficult for him to vote against the death penalty in cases involving the death of a child. An 8-year-old boy was killed in the bombing.
"I also am concerned about how to go about impartiality given the circumstances of the case," he said.
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