Tsarnaev Jurors' Answers On Death Penalty, Islam Released

In this courtroom sketch, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, center, is depicted between defense attorneys Miriam Conrad, left, and Judy Clarke, right, during his federal death penalty trial. (Jane Flavell Collins/AP)
In this courtroom sketch, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, center, is depicted between defense attorneys Miriam Conrad, left, and Judy Clarke, right, during his federal death penalty trial. (Jane Flavell Collins/AP)

Newly released court documents show at the start of the trial of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, jurors were split on which was a worse fate — life without parole, or the death penalty.

That's one of several revelations in juror questionnaire answers made available to WBUR on Monday. This is the first time the answers to all 100 questions the seated jurors were asked during jury selection nearly four years ago have been made public.

More than 1,373 people called for jury service filled the questionnaires out, and Judge George O'Toole ordered on Dec. 13 that the answers of just 18 — the 12 deliberating jurors and six alternates who sat through the trial — be released. (Tsarnaev's attorneys had asked for all the questionnaires filled out be released, but O'Toole denied that.)

Here is some of what stood out about what the 12 deliberating jurors said in response to the 100 questions:

Life Versus Death

Jurors were asked several questions about their views on the death penalty, when it should be imposed and how in favor of it they were. In order to serve on a capital case jurors must be "death qualified" — meaning they're neither entirely against, nor always for, the death penalty in all murder cases. Most played it straight down the middle, answering that they weren't for or against the death penalty, but could hand down whichever they believed was called for by the facts and law in the case.

Jurors were split in their views on the severity of life without the possibility of release, compared to a death sentence. They were asked whether life imprisonment without the possibility of release is less severe, about the same, or more severe than the death penalty. That's the decision jurors would have to make, if Tsarnaev were convicted.

Four said life in prison without the possibility of release was about the same as the death penalty. "Life as you know it is impaired with either decision," another wrote.

Two jurors said life in prison was less severe than the death penalty. "Someone being allowed to live their life after taking someone else's life is not always fair."

Two said life was more severe than the death penalty "Death is final. No further suffering. Life imprisonment is a daily reminder."

Four said they had no opinion.

Their Connection To The Boston Marathon Bombings (And The Aftermath)

None of the 12 jurors had a family member or close friend who witnessed the explosions in person, or who were personally affected by the bombings or the other crimes connected to the case.

But about half did take part in the outpouring of support for the Boston Marathon bombing survivors, including donating money to the One Fund, attending or watching the benefit concert, and buying Boston Strong t-shirts.

The answers to this question is likely to become part of Tsarnaev's appeal of his death sentence. His attorneys have argued Tsarnaev wasn't able to get a fair trial in Boston, just a few miles from the site of the explosions.

Most Jurors Didn't Know Anyone Who Is Muslim, And Knew Little About Islam

Most of the jurors said they were "not at all familiar" with the teachings of Islam. Only two said they were "somewhat familiar" and more than half said they never have interactions with people who were Muslim or practice Islam.

Asked whether the U.S government acts unfairly towards Muslims in the U.S. or in other parts of the world, only one juror — the forewoman — said yes. Jurors were also asked if the "war on terror" unfairly targets Muslims, and all said no, or they didn't have an opinion.

The 12 jurors ultimately sentenced Tsarnaev to death. The now 25-year-old is in the federal Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado.


Headshot of Ally Jarmanning

Ally Jarmanning Senior Reporter
Ally is a senior reporter focused on criminal justice and police accountability.



More from WBUR

Listen Live